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Billie Silvey
The
Morality Of
Noir
Noir movies have their own morality, which is both like and unlike the
Christian morality common in the country at the time.

The
style of film noir reflects its moral content.  The stark contrast of
black and white speaks to its broad contrasting themes of life and death,
good and evil.  Christianity throws human behavior into stark terms of
good and evil as well.  However, Christian scripture teaches that all of us
are sinners, living in shades of gray.  We rely on Christ to make us
clean.  

Noir presents a stark contrast with the genteel British detective stories,
replacing logic with action and suspense.  It contrasts, as well, with the
plucky optimism of Hollywood movies with their inevitable happy
endings.  As Christians we're realistic enough to know that none of us
makes it out alive. We can't face the world solely with reason, because
this world isn't always--maybe even often--reasonable.  We need faith.

Its
philosophy reflects the cynicism and disillusionment of the time.
It was as if the whole world were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Growing out of the era between the world wars, it reflects the tensions of
an age that has lost so much to a grinding and grueling war that hasn't
decided anything.  The Bible tells us that there never will be total peace
in this world.  We have too many desires and conflicting self-interests,
and none of us is charitable enough to constantly look out for other
people's interests.  Things may go well for some time, but we know that
peace--in the world, in our lives, even within our own minds--is not our
permanent state.

Its
setting reflects the rise of cities in the post-World War I era, when
many Americans moved from the farm to the city, restless for
opportunity.  What they found was too many people searching for the
same thing, not all of whom were content to stay within the bounds of
law and morality.

As these cities grew rapidly, thrusting up in jagged frames of steel, the
space between them grew dark and dingy, harboring foulness and decay.

Crime grew just as rapidly, thrusting tentacles into every corner.  Back
streets gleamed with neon, presenting an attractive alternative to right, a
choice between the long-range consequences of momentary happiness
and a life well lived, between  the prevailing norms of greed and ambition
and true justice.  We're just fooling ourselves if we think that, in the
spaces between soaring joy and vaulting achievement, we don't harbor
our own foulness and decay.  None of us consistently has pure motives
or applies our efforts for the good of others.

“Follow the money� becomes the path to truth, and threats lurk in
the shadows around each corner.  Even those of us who yearn to be
better are prey to materialism.  We live in a material world, a world that
seduces us like the femme fatale of the noir film, with things that are
attractive but need to be resisted for our own good.   

Its
characters include the lonely and isolated antihero who speaks to
and for himself in voiceover.   Each of us is essentially alone in the
world.  No matter how deeply we love, or how many people we care
about, no other person understands the totality of our thoughts and
experiences--no one but God.  We don't have to go through life engaged
in an inner dialogue with ourselves.  We can talk with God each day, any
moment, sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings and listening to his
Word and his promptings. He understands.  He's been with us all along.

The femme fatale or deadly woman seduces and lures the antihero to an
almost certain doom.  If he's lucky, a second female, the nurturing
woman, is on his side.  Mike Hammer’s Gilda is a great example of
the woman who patches him up only to send him out again.  She would
like to provide a permanent harbor, but something compels him to resist
the comfort of a settled life.  We all have friends and family members
who nurture and encourage us, who patch us up when we've been
wounded by life.  We need to value these human companions on our
life's journey and nuture and value our relationships with them.

The
atmosphere, thick with fog or cut with blinding rain, blurs all lines.
The noir detective himself occupies a morally ambiguous place between
the law and the criminals, a melancholy place inhabited by flawed
people.   That's where we all live--in a world of moral ambiguity and
flawed people--including ourselves.  How much better if we all seek
whatever light we can find, and share that light with each other.

In
Angel, a supernatural thriller with many aspects of noir, Wesley says, â
€œThere is a line, Lilah.  Black and white.  Good and evil.â€�

“Funny thing about black and white,â€� she replies.  â€œYou mix it
together and you get gray.  It doesn’t matter how much white you
try and put back in, you’re never gonna get anything but gray.�

Sam Spade in
The Maltese Falcon tells the story of Flintcraft, a man
Spade was hired to track down.  It turned out that one day, Flintcraft
was passing a construction site when a heavy beam fell, almost striking
him.

All he’d done to bring order to his life suddenly seemed useless.  
Life was haphazard, and it didn’t matter how he lived.  Deserting his
wife and family, he traveled around the country.  Then, when no more
beams fell, he settled down again with another wife and family.  We
won't get out of this life alive, so we'd just as well settle down with the
family and friends we have and love them as much as we can.
March 2010
Film Noir
Noir Detectives