In the mid 1940’s, the cinematic genre known as film noir was still in its infancy. The emergence of film noir reflected a shift in tone of American thought in World War II and post war society. In Double Indemnity, we see the dark representation of a gloomy Los Angles filled with paranoia. The emotions shown in Double Indemnity can be seen in the incorporation of expressionist thought, Gothic Romance, and the effects of World War II.
When watching Double Indemnity, it is hard to escape the clear presence of Gothic Romance. While Gothic Romance’s had a strong emphasis on the supernatural, which is not present in Double Indemnity, the obsession with death and solitude is shown throughput the movie. The opening scene consists of the main character, Walter Neff, confessing to murder. From the flashbacks which compose the rest of the movie, the murder is always in the back of the viewers mind. Walter becomes increasing paranoid about being discovered for his crime, which adds to the overall feeling of anxiety. Even more important is the feeling of solidarity. Walter begins the movie fairly isolated; being that his only noticeable friend is his coworker Keyes. He quickly falls in love with femme fatal, Mrs. Stanwyck. As the murder unravels, Walter becomes increasingly isolated knowing that Keyes is uncovering his crime and his relationship with Mrs. Stanwyck is falling apart.
The movie also incorporates several elements of expressionism. The clearest use of expressionism is in the storyline of Double Indemnity. Double Indemnity integrates the use of flashbacks and narratives to tell the story. The story is told through a series of flashbacks connected by Walter’s confession, which serves as the narration. The narrative provides an insight into the mind of Walter, often focusing on a sight and then detailing his emotions connected to that sight. Due to the use of narrative and flashbacks, the film has a noticeably expressionist feel to it.
The world of Double Indemnity reflects many emotions of a country experiencing a world war. Director and co-screen writer Billy Wilder was an immigrant from Europe whom was forced out during Hitler’s reign. The sense of isolation experienced by Walter can be connected to Wilder’s immigration to a foreign country. Also, a great deal of the movie deals with gender relations. Double Indemnity features a powerful femme fatal in Mrs. Stanwyck. Her character could be a possible reflection of the changing dynamics experienced in the work place during World War II. The almost nihilistic ending of the movie, seems to illustrate certain horrors of life during war time. When examining the film, it is tough to over look the impact the large significance that World War II had during the 1940’s.