Film noir evokes the dark side where the noir protagonist is usually trapped in a web of dire circumstance.
A particular noir trope is amnesia. Hemmed in by internal barriers the noir amnesiac struggles to recover memory and meaning. The lost doppelganger, usually the dark flip-side of a new better self. In the redemptive noir the better self in the process of discovery cancels the past and gets a second shot, while in a less sanguine universe the fusion is bitterly destructive. A variation has the anti-hero hunting down the perpetrator of his own repressed memory, or stealing the identity of a better self.
The femme-fatale is a kind of amnesiac. An alluring front to a rotten foundation. On rare – perverse – occasions she repents and lives happily ever after. And it is not only the female of the species. Hommes-fatales are not unknown. Indeed pairings in-fatale though rare have a frission all their own.
And sometimes it was all a dream – or a psychotic delusion.
Identifying films noir that trace particular strands of fractured identity would be revealing too much, so here is a selective list to get you started:
- La Bionda (The Blonde – Italy 1992)
- Black Angel (1946)
- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Germany 1919)
- The Chase (1946)
- The Clay Pigeon (1949)
- Crack-Up (1946)
- The Crooked Way (1949)
- The Dark Mirror (1946 )
- Dark Passage (1947)
- Deadline at Dawn (1946)
- Fear in the Night (1947)
- The File On Thelma Jordan (1950)
- High Wall (1946)
- The Locket (1946)
- Memento (2000)
- Mister Buddwing (1966)
- No Man of Her Own (1950)
- So Dark the Night (1946)
- Strange Impersonation (1946)
- The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
- The Unsuspected (1947)
- The Woman in the Window (1944)