Film Analysis Of Sunset Boulevard 1950 Film Review

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Sunset Boulevard is a classic film noir produced in 1950 and directed by Billy Wilder. The film begins with the murder of Joe Gillis, a floundering screenwriter who ends up dead in a swimming pool. "Poor dope," the voice over says. "He'd always wanted a pool. Well, in the end he got himself a pool, only the price turned out to be a little high." The voice over, delivered in classic film noir style, turns out to be none other than Gillis himself. Far from being an unreliable narrator, though, Gillis promises "the facts" and delivers. The entire film Sunset Boulevard is the retelling of "the facts" from Gillis's perspective. Wilder's choice of narration is dutifully ironic, as a failed filmmaker becomes famous. The theme of the movie is reminiscent of the Great Gatsby, with its peek at American decadence and lost dreams. Because it offers rich social commentary, Sunset Boulevard signals the changes taking place in American society at the time the film was written. American society had just crawled out of the Second World War. Hollywood was booming, and so was the economy as it was about to propel Americans into one of the most conflicted and contradictory eras of its twentieth century history: the 1950s. An era of rank materialism, shallow dreams, and cultural delusions of grandeur, the 1950s was not yet beginning when Wilder developed the screenplay for Sunset Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard comes across as being prescient of the changes that would arise towards the end of that era, when the counterculture caught onto the lies that were embedded in the American Dream. For its visuals alone, Sunset Boulevard is a commendable motion picture. Wilder has full command of cinematographic chiaroscuro, which is a critical component in any black and white film noir. Opening scenes display rich diagonal lines that symbolize the skewed vision of Hollywood stars like Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma Desmond is an old silent film star whose has thoroughly lost her mind and self in a fantasy world of her own creation. The...


Desmond was once a fabulous, gorgeous film star and she is obsessed with that image of herself. The obsession prevents Desmond from accepting her age and lack of participation in the modern cinematic universe. This lack of participation in the modern cinematic universe is what she shares in common with Joe Gillis, and is what brings the two lost, fated souls together.
Whereas Desmond has a deluded sense of self, Gillis is a stark realist. Perhaps a surrogate for Wilder, Gillis is a screenwriter who desires the type of recognition that Desmond also still hungers for. Both characters long for the admiration and respect of their peers. The unhealthy pursuit of Hollywood dreams is the metaphor for the American Dream.

Wilder has his finger on the pulse of American culture. The culture is pulled in two different directions, and Hollywood epitomizes both directions and hence the struggle. In one direction is the pull of materialism and egotistical satisfaction through fame and fortune. In the other direction is the meaningfulness of creative energy and self-expression that is elevated to an art form. Sunset Boulevard is named for the place; it is a film about the symbolism of Hollywood and what Hollywood represents for the future of the American Dream. Wilder uses Sunset Boulevard to urge viewers to think more critically about American material culture. However, none of the characters in Sunset Boulevard come to the realization except for the dim light that begins to dawn on Gillis in the moments leading up to his death.

Gillis has become increasingly disturbed by Norma Desmond and by his dysfunctional relationship with her. The generation gap suggests exploitation and indeed, theirs is an exploitative relationship. Gillis knows that has started to sell his soul; when he finally composes a creative piece that he can be proud of, he sabotages the opportunity to develop it into something meaningful just as he sabotages the opportunity to engage in a truly nurturing and healthy relationship with fellow screenwriter Betty Schaefer (played by Nancy Olson).…

Sources Used in Documents:


Armstrong, R. (2000). Billy Wilder: American Film Realist. NC: McFarland & Co.

Gibson, A. (2001). And the Wind Wheezing Through That Organ Once in a While": Voice, Narrative, Film. Retrieved online:

Smoodin, E. (1983). The image and the voice in the film with spoken narration. Quarterly Review of Film Studies 8(4): 19-32.

Wilder, B. (1950). Sunset Boulevard. Feature film.

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