James Ellory, in the documentary film, Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (2006) says of film noir of the classic period: [film noir] exposited one great theme, and that great theme is “your fucked”.
Jieho Lee’s The Air I Breathe (2007), is a very unusual Hollywood movie that goes beyond genre and episodically explores dark and mystical motifs: memory, love, violence, criminality, ambition, alienation, urban ennui and existential angst, causality, serendipity, and even the butterfly effect cum six degrees of separation. The episodes are based on an ancient Chinese proverb that breaks life down into four elements:
happiness: clerk (Forest Whitaker) bets his life on a horse race
pleasure: criminal enforcer (Brendan Fraser) sees the future
sorrow: pop star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is caught in the ultra-violent web of crime boss “Fingers” (Andy Garcia)
love: a doctor (Kevin Bacon) must save the life of his lost love (Julie Delpy).
The film opens with happiness. A timid clerk in an office job who has always done the right thing is lonely and unhappy, desperately sees money as a way out to happiness (sound familiar?). After waking that morning from a nightmare to see a butterfly fly into his bedroom, he surreptitiously overhears office colleagues who are betting on a fixed horse race, with “Butterfly” to win. He places a $50,000 off-course bet and (yeah) the horse takes a dive and he does his dough. He is now in hock to Fingers, and has two weeks to make good his bet, before he starts losing his fingers. Fingers’ stand-over man gives him a gun on a “home visit” as some kind of solution.
The clerk’s voice-over in the next scene begins: “Sometimes being totally fucked can be a liberating experience…” and then he lays out his plan for a bank heist, which has nowhere to go but wrong, and he dies in a hail of police bullets on the roof of an office building, but not before he throws the bag with the bank money over the side of the building, laughing deeply and profoundly in a dervish-er whirl of liberation…
There is an interesting related post by Lloydville on his mardecortesbaja.com blog: The Message Of Film Noir.