Chinatown ★★★★

"You see, somebody went to a lot of trouble here, and I want to find out, lawsuit or no lawsuit. I'm not the one who's supposed to be caught with my pants down... so I'd like to see your husband. Unless that's a problem."

This line is uttered by J. J. "Jake" Gittes, a private investigator played by Jack Nicholson, to Evelyn Mulwray, wife of an engineer for the city of angels. Another woman claimed to be Mrs. Mulway and had Gittes take photos of Mr. Mulway with a third woman, and now it doesn't add up. When Gittes offers to help the real Mrs. Mulway find out why someone went through all this trouble to set her husband up, she immediately wants to drop the whole thing and writes him a check to just forget about it.

Of all the things Gittes says in Chinatown, I think this one is the closest we get to understanding who he is. Despite being in the business of uncovering sordid affairs, he doesn't care about the money nor does he seek to profit off the downfall of others. Take this line where he responds to a banker who mocks his line of business:

"Look, pal. I make an honest living. People don't come to me unless they're miserable and I help 'em out of a bad situation. I don't kick them out of their homes like you jerks who work in the bank."

Later in the story we learn why he's become a private eye. Although he keeps these details vague, it completes our picture of who he is. Gittes is someone who seeks the truth above all, especially when it's hidden by those who profit off its absence. He senses a conspiracy under the murders and payoffs running around. Water, greed, lies, identity. Water. Somehow this is the throughline connecting everything together, the thing those in the shadows are fighting over and the key to unlocking what their motives are.

I see a lot of myself in this aspect of Gittes. Actually, I think it's hard for someone not to. He's an everyman who's more eloquent than his appearance suggests and has more integrity than his profession indicates. When he's confronted with a case that doesn't make sense and is lucrative to forget, he pursues it anyways. The reality being sold to him goes against his internal troths and it's easier to die sticking to them than it is to walk away. Gittes might be more committed to the truth than we are, but his position is one we've all been in.

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