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On The Subject of Noir

Noir is more of a style than a genre. It’s not entirely its own but not entirely something else either. It brings together much darker themes, lighting and characters to portray something all together unique. Usually filled with cynicism, pessimism or casual dark comedy, noir is all its own, spawning an entire movement in a post war America. While having been more prominent in the 1940s and 50s, noir continues on to the present as an art form now known as neo-noir. As such, there are several current examples of noir’s continued influence of the 2000s.

Welcome to Nightvale: This podcast is an example of noir through its use of darker themes masked as a talk show. From a strange Glow Cloud to the woman who is always behind you, the city of Nightvale experiences supernatural occurrences regularly. However, no one ever seems to mind. This unique way of living brings about a form of dry comedy that adds to the already dark lifestyle of the town. Additionally, the subject of noir is regularly spoken through Cecil, the talk show host, who almost always brings about a much deeper, darker subject speaking to our humanity. Its cynicism, dramatic flare, and macabre humor trace back to the original noir of the 40s and 50s, allowing it to fall under the category of neo-noir.

Sin City: Sin City barely needs its own explanation. It is the epitome of noir. Using a black and white filter throughout the film, it pays homage to the older noir films that had only ever been monochromatic. Corruption, prostitution, femme fatales,  drugs, alcohol, and gruff, straightforward males all encompass Sin City, adding to its already dark, vengeful plots. The city itself is torn between the crooked cops and the self governing prostitutes, with dark alleys, shady deals, and powerful crime lords littering into the mix. Strong, beautiful, fast talking, females also play an important role, pushing some of the main characters to do certain things that move the plot along. The film is a crowning example of neo-noir, perfectly  paying homage to the much older films while still giving itself a name in the noir industry.

An example of Sin City’s black and while filter in addition to typical noir acting

The Dark Knight: Batman is a excellent example of a noir protagonist. He’s a loner, dark, misanthropic and a vengeful spirit. Watching his parents die in front of him threw him down into a spiral of emptiness, fueled by his anger towards criminals. The city of Gotham is also just as sinful as Sin City, full of corrupt cops and raging villains. Illegal deals and underground crimes happen throughout the film as a result of the mad, insane Joker. In addition, the Batman regularly used the shadows to his advantage as most noir films do. Part of him was normally shrouded in darkness in addition to his already black attire. He would disappear into the darkness or speak from it, creating an air of mystery surrounding his already cryptic demeanor. While mainly a noir film due to the Batman’s mannerisms and the use of lighting, The Dark Knight was still able to depict what noir was, adding to the baffling category.

The Dark Knight

Bugs Bunny’s Racketeering Rabbit: Most noir comedies maintain a more crude sense  of humor, one that appeals to only a select group of people. This bugs bunny episode uses that same brash humor that many of those dark comedies do. Additionally, Bugs Bunny’s stereotypical use of fast talking, “radio voiced” criminals brings forth a much darker theme hidden behind loads of comedy. Similarly to Adventure Time’s hidden origins, this episode of Bugs Bunny makes people forget about the danger of criminals with the use of Bugs’ quick wits and clever ideas which also exemplify a noir detective. So, while comedic and fun, this episode of Bugs Bunny masks an overall theme of crime, fighting, and violence.

Courageous Cat’s The case of the Cat Cave treasure: While this episode is more noir due to the main villain’s mannerisms, it still exemplified some key noir characteristics. The main villain himself was the stereotypical 40s criminal with his mid-Atlantic accent, cigar and useful henchman. This was similarly seen in the Bugs Bunny cartoon that also displayed criminals as caricatures of real ones. In this one, however, the heroes weren’t exactly clever or quick witted but they still maintained an air of smarts that they used to their advantage. This brand of humor was a lot less harsh than in Bugs Bunny but still had that same crude characteristic that makes some people pause. As such, this episode of Courageous Cat could be seen as a more child friendly Bugs Bunny.

In conclusion, these forms of media show that noir is not a genre. It never will be. It is a style, a suggestion, a nod towards the much darker side of society that some people just don’t want to acknowledge. It brings forth a form of entertainment that still shows things that we don’t want to see, things that exist in dark alleys and under beds, things that go bump in the night.


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