I realized I need to finish this one off!
Here are the posts about Act One and Act Two, and a breakdown of Jake Gittes as protagonist.
Chinatown - Act One breakdown
Chinatown: Act Two, Part One
What Makes a Great Protagonist? Case Study: Jake Gittes
So picking it up from the Midpoint: Jake has just learned that the Water Department thugs have been blowing up the farmers' water supply and poisoning their wells, then was knocked unconscious by farmhands.
ACT TWO, PART TWO
As he comes to consciousness, Jake sees Evelyn’s face. She’s come to pick him up; the grove owner and his wife called her (indicating that they’re good people, and likely telling the truth about everything).
In the car with Evelyn, Jake has begun to figure out that the dam is a con job. Someone has paid water officials to cause an artificial drought to force farmers out of the Valley, and is now buying up land on the cheap. The dam will eventually divert water back to the Valley and the value of the land will skyrocket. And Jake thinks Mulwray was killed because he found out about the scheme. (DETECTIVE VOICING HIS THEORY).
The conversation triggers Jake’s memory and he recognizes the name of one of the new landowners, Jasper Lamar Crabbe, from the obituary that Ida Sessions pointed him to. But Crabbe died a week before he “bought” the land. MAJOR CLUE) The obituary notes that the service for Crabbe was at the Mar Vista Inn. (Hero’s new PLAN – to investigate this new clue.)
1:15: Evelyn and Gittes go to the Mar Vista Inn, a retirement home , and Jake pulls another clever bit of business – he pretends to the manager that he and Evelyn are looking for a good rest home for his father and want to look around the place. They realize from names on a recreational sign up sheet that whoever is buying the land is doing it in the names of the senior citizens of the home, who have no idea their identities are being used. Jake and Evelyn speak to an Emma Dill, who is quilting a pattern with a flag from the Albacore Club - the yacht club from the scene with Noah Cross. The Albacore Club sponsors the retirement home. (CLUE).
The irate manager comes to escort Jake out; he’s obviously on to the deception. Mulvahill is waiting for them outside, with a gun. Jake insists Evelyn leave; Jake and Mulvahill fight and Jake knocks Mulvahill out and disarms him. As Jake tries to leave, the thug (Polanski) and more goons come after him with guns, but Evelyn rescues Jake (again) when she screeches up in her car and drives him to safety. (ATTACK ON HERO).
1:20: Back at Evelyn's house. Evelyn has given the servants the night off. She tends to Gittes' wounds. In this famous bathroom scene, Jake notices a flaw in her the iris of her eye -another reference to a flaw in seeing- and they kiss, and then make love.
After sex, there is pillow talk, but all thematic: Evelyn presses Jake about his background. He says he worked Chinatown and that there, like with Evelyn, nothing was as it seemed, so the cops all tried to do “as little as possible.” He reveals that he tried to help a woman there but she ended up getting hurt instead. Evelyn asks if this woman died (all FORESHADOWING), but before Jake can answer the phone rings. Whoever it is and whatever is said upsets Evelyn deeply. She says she has to go and asks Jake to trust her. Before she showers she tells Jake that her father owns the Albacore Club, then gets very distraught when Jake says that he knows, he talked to her father. She covers her breasts with her arms when Jake mentions her father. (CLUE)
While Evelyn is in the shower, Jake breaks one of the taillights of her car in order to follow her (CROSSING THE LINE/IMMORAL ACTIONS), then as she leaves, he takes Mulwray’s car to tail her. (Jake in Mulwray’s car – again, following in Mulwray’s doomed path). The taillight is another one-eye, flawed vision image.
1:30: Jake follows Evelyn to her mystery location. He spies on her through a window and sees her with the distraught blond girl that Jake thinks is Mulwray’s mistress. Evelyn forces the girl to take pills. (The way the girl is splayed on the bed face down is sexually vulnerable – a disturbing FORESHADOWING of her fate).
Jake surprises Evelyn in her car, now calling her Mrs. Mulwray. He accuses her of kidnapping her husband's mistress and threatens to go to the police. Evelyn insists the young woman is her sister (she hits her head on the steering wheel before she reveals this – FORESHADOWING). She says she would never have harmed her husband – she only wanted him to be happy. The revelation that the girl is her sister makes Jake back off on going to the police, but he still doesn’t trust Evelyn; when she asks him to come back home with her he refuses, again calling her Mrs. Mulwray.
1: 35 Back at home, an exhausted Jake has no sooner hit the bed when the phone rings. A hoarse voice says “Ida Sessions wants to see you”. Jake says she can come to his office in the morning and hangs up, but the caller calls back and insists, giving him an address. (Note the horse lithographs above Jake’s bed – tying him visually to Evelyn).
1:37: Jake goes to the address. The apartment has been broken into (SUSPENSE SCENE) and Jake finds the dead body of Ida Sessions, the phony Mrs. Mulwray. Water is dripping inexorably in the sink. (The lettuce head and spilled groceries on the floor are a great creepy touch).
1:40 FALSE SCARE scene as Jake investigates the apartment: someone in the bathroom, who turns out to be Escobar and Loach, the other detective. Jake’s number is written beside Ida’s phone and Escobar accuses Jake of being an accessory to Mulwray’s murder after the fact; he thinks Jake is blackmailing Evelyn because he saw her kill Mulwray. Jake insists that Mulwray was killed because of the water conspiracy and tells Escobar he can prove it.
Jake takes Escobar and Loach to the water pipeline beside the ocean, but there is nothing but a trickle of water. A phone call to Yelburton yields the same excuse of “a little runoff”, but Escobar believes it and demands that Jake get his client, Mrs. Mulwray, to the police station in two hours. This fight between them yields one more huge CLUE: Mulwray drowned in salt water.
1:45 Jake goes up to the Mulwray mansion and finds the servants covering the furniture with sheets, and packed luggage in the hallway. Jake goes out to the back yard, where the gardener is re-turfing around the pool. This time he says “Salt water bad for grass,” and Jake realizes the pool is salt water. He gets the gardener to fish out the shiny object he saw in the pond earlier – it’s a pair of eyeglasses with one lens broken that Jake assumes are Mulwray’s. Now Jake is certain Evelyn killed her husband, in their own back yard.
1:47 Jake drives to the Canyon Road house, where he had followed Evelyn the night before. He calls Escobar in front of her and tells him the address of the house, then confronts Evelyn with the glasses that he found in the pond and tells her what he’s figured out: she confronted Mulwray about the affair, they fought, Mulwray got killed falling into the pool, but his girl was a witness and she’s had to shut her up. (DETECTIVE VOICING HIS THEORY). Jake demands to know who the girl is – since Evelyn doesn’t have a sister. He slaps her (CROSSING THE LINE, IMMORAL ACTIONS) until Evelyn reveals that the girl is both her sister and daughter - her father, Cross, molested her when she was 15. (Huge and climactic REVELATION; TRUE NATURE OF ANTAGONIST.). Evelyn ran away to Mexico and then Mulwray came to find her and take care of both her and the baby. Now she wants to care for her daughter and take her back to Mexico, away from her father’s grasp.
Jake realizes Evelyn is innocent and decides to help her and her daughter. He tells Evelyn to go to her butler’s house – which is in Chinatown – and Jake will arrange for them to escape, since the bus, planes and the train are out; Escobar will be looking for them. (Change in HERO’S PLAN. STAKES – Evelyn could be arrested for murder and Jake as an accessory. HOPE – that Jake will be able to help Evelyn and Katherine escape. FEAR – not just that Escobar will catch them, but that Cross will catch them, too. More FEAR – the fact that Jake is going back into Chinatown, the setting of his haunted past, is ominous.).
As Evelyn goes upstairs to get Katherine, she looks at the glasses and tells Jake that they could not belong to Mulwray as he did not wear bifocals. Again, the "eye" motif. And, knowing this new CLUE, Jake can see the case in a new way. ACT TWO CLIMAX
Jake lowers the blinds in the house (a literal CURTAIN on Act Two).
ACT THREE -
1:54: Jake puts his PLAN of escape into action. He calls Walsh and Duffy and tells them to meet him at the butler’s house in two hours, or come find him in jail if he doesn’t show up. Escobar arrives at the house and Jake pretends they both missed Evelyn; he says suspects she’s fled to her maid’s house, in San Pedro (a long drive, which will give Evelyn and Katherine a big head start). Escobar insists Jake go with them to find Evelyn.
In San Pedro, Jake asks to go up to the house and have a moment with Evelyn alone; Escobar gives him three minutes. A woman with a black eye opens the door (the wounded eye again, and also part of the motif of violence against women.). When she lets Jake into the house, we see Curly, the client from the first scene, and realize this is his cheating wife. Jake is calling in the favor Curly owes him (PAYOFF) – he wants Curly to drive him to Chinatown and then take Evelyn and Katherine to Mexico by boat. Jake successfully evades the police by driving out with Curly. This is all a hugely clever plan of Jake’s that make us HOPE that he’s actually going to get away with all of this and save Evelyn and Katherine. And since the film ends tragically it’s important to provide this sense of hope so that the actual resolution will be that much more disastrous.
2:00: Jake calls Cross to have him meet him at the Mulwray estate, saying he has the girl. Gittes confronts Cross with his crimes. Cross admits his culpability with the water diversion and real estate scam: “Either you bring the water to LA, or you bring LA to the water!”, and also with his daughter (“Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time, the right place, they’re capable of anything.”), and Mulwray's murder, but he has no remorse. He’s buying the future. Mulvahill steps out with a gun and Cross forces Jake to take him to “the girl”, saying ominously, “I want the only daughter I have left.”
On to the CLIMAX AND FINAL BATTLE:
THEMATIC LOCATION: The final showdown brings Jake’s greatest nightmare to life around him; he is back in the place where he suffered his huge defeat and wound in the past, a place that he has told Evelyn is “bad luck”.
No sooner does Jake get out of the car in Chinatown than he is arrested by Escobar and cuffed to the car. Cross sees Evelyn and follows her and Katherine on the street, Cross wheedling that “She’s mine, too” Evelyn scrambles into her car with Katherine, pulls a gun and tells her father to get away from them. Cross puts on an innocent victim act for the police, saying Evelyn is a disturbed woman. The cops warn Evelyn to stay put and Jake pleads with her to let the police handle it; she counters that her father “owns the police.” She shoots her father in the arm and peels out in the car. The police start shooting, Escobar into the air, but Loach at the car, and the car skids to a halt, horn blaring, then we hear screams.
The police and Jake and Cross run to the car; Evelyn is dead, shot through the eye (horrifying PAYOFF of all those single-eye images, and archetypal reference to OEDIPUS). Cross enfolds Katherine and takes her away to her obvious doom.
Escobar yells at Jake to get out of there – “I’m doing you a favor.” Jake is shell-shocked, mumbles, “As little as possible.” Jake’s greatest nightmare has been repeated, in spades, and we see he is a broken man. Walsh takes his arm and tells him gently, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown,” as the locals gather to gape.
RESOLUTION AND NEW WAY OF LIFE – it’s not happy. Jake has lost everything and our strong sense is that he will never recover.
2 hours 11 minutes.
For anyone in the New Orleans area, I'll be teaching a story structure workshop and signing books at the Jubilee Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma, LA this weekend. More info here: Jubilee Jambalaya.
Previous articles on story structure: (all also linked at right hand side of blog under WRITING ARTICLES).
Story Structure 101 - The Index Card Method
Screenwriting - The Craft
What's Your Premise?
What is High Concept?
Why the Three Act Structure?
Elements of Act One
Elements of Act Two
Elements of Act Two, Part 2
Elements of Act Three, Part 1
Elements of Act Three, Part 2
What Makes a Great Climax?
Visual Storytelling Part 1
Visual Storytelling Part 2
Creating Suspense, Part 2
Fairy Tale Structure and the List
What Makes a Great Villain?
Villains: The Forces of Antagonism