Final Questions

4

Film noir’s portrayal of the “femme fatale” supports the existing social order by building up a powerful, independent woman, only to punish her. To what extent do you agree with this in relation to the portrayal of women in ‘LA Noire’?

Femme fatale literally translates as ‘fatal woman’.

In this regard, there is no woman in L.A. Noire who fits this bill properly. Au contraire, it is the men who prove the be fatal to the women; most of the victims of violent crimes appear to be women, and the perpetrator being a man. Moreover, a femme fatale is often an antagonist–if not the primary antagonist, even–but in the game, there are no real female antagonists who have far-reaching impact. It is an interesting dichotomy that the game sets up: women seem to be either a criminal/suspect or a victim; there really isn’t an in-between. Whether this is an accurate contemporary portrayal by L.A. Noire, I cannot say, but I do doubt that this rather black and white rendition of women could have been handled better.

However, there are a couple cases of women in the game who are not just ‘simple housewives’. In an early traffic case, “A Marriage Made in Heaven”, we meet Lorna Pattison, who colludes with (or uses, depending on how you look at it) Leroy Sabo to kill her husband Lester in order to pick up on his life insurance. Throughout the case, she comes across as cool, calculating and charming. However, after some detective work by Cole Phelps & Co., the conspiracy is uncovered, and she doesn’t hesitate to give up Sabo, acting as if she had nothing to do with it, a victim even! This seems to work for a couple seconds, but then an enraged Leroy jumps out and shoots Lorna, and before killing her, he reveals how she had planned everything.

So, here we have a case of a powerful, independent woman (even if she didn’t use those qualities very wisely) indeed being punished by 2 groups of men: the male police and/or her male partner. One can almost taste the social commentary here! But, she’s a villain, so it’s difficult to sympathise with her.

N.B. Apparently, it is possible to play the case in a manner in which Lorna is not killed.

Which brings us to Elsa Lichtmann, perhaps the most important female character in the game and another candidate for femme fatale. I have already talked about her in my previous post, so I’ll keep it brief here. Up until her introduction into the plot, the role of women in the narrative is almost non-existent. Even the most memorable of female characters are forgotten beyond their respective cases, whereas the male constants are always there. In fact, it could be said that the most important woman in the game is the female operator Cole gets when he uses a telephone! But I digress. Elsa is pivotal to the story. She is intelligent, independent and certainly powerful through her beauty and charms. This is evident by her effect on men, such as deuteragonist Jack Kelso. Nevertheless, she too does not fit the role of a femme fatale, as she is constantly punished in society, not least of all for being German in post-War America. She was also a drug addict, potentially sexually abused in the past, has lost her best friend and then nearly killed by a mad psychiatrist. Yet, despite this, she remains a strong character even up until the very end of the game when she shouts at Roy Earle at Phelps’s funeral.

Overall, I can understand why many people would see L.A. Noire as stereotypical or even sexist in its portrayal of women. But I think that the game is showing us rare women like Elsa Lichtmann amongst a sea of passive women in order to display to us the rise of women like her during and after the women’s suffrage movement of the 20th century. And I think it’s certainly worth pondering upon how the game begins with Cole’s wife faithfully kissing him goodbye for work, but ends with Elsa shouting down a high-ranking male police detective. Does all of this mean anything or are we reading too deep into it?

Food for thought.

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Comments

  1. AndrewKingsley / Apr 29th, 2012 8:37 Quote

    I agree that there is no safe haven for the women in the story, their always victim and criminal. We could argue that Elsa in her own right is a criminal for commiting adultery and stealing someones husband, she’s just as bad as the rest of them really.

  2. James1185 / Apr 29th, 2012 17:43 Quote

    I agree, although whilst Elsa is no saint, at least she is a strong independent female character.

  3. Christopher Dunning / Apr 29th, 2012 22:59 Quote

    A great in depth look at the femme fatale stereotype and it’s interesting that you mention the contrast between the introduction and conclusion of the game, personally I had completely forgotten the beginning by the time I finished.

    I respect your view on Elsa as well, where many saw a terrible person who broke up a marriage, you have looked at her objectively and shown both sides of what is essentially a broken and damaged woman trying to rebuild her life.

  4. MaddieS / Apr 30th, 2012 0:36 Quote

    While I think you pose a strong argument for the position of women in L.A. Noire I would refute two of your claims: the first is that there are no real “femme fatal” characters in the game. Where you have taken the term “femme fatale” literally to indicate a directly “fatal” woman you ignore the indirect consequences of female character’s actions in the game and the true nature of the “femme fatale” in the film noire genre: Lorna Pattison is indeed punished by two groups of men, but before her death (or imprisonment) she wreaks havoc on her male associates, manipulating Sabo into killing her husband and then having Sabo arrested for the crime. This demonstrates her power, however negatively it may impact others. The “femme fatale” however is not an invincible character: though she may be deceiving and coercive, she is often vulnerable too and almost always ended up dying or being married off in film noir. The second point I would like to make is regarding the character of Elsa Lichtmann: I completely agree that her character is pivotal to the storyline, but I do not agree that she lacks the essence of “femme fatale” because she is constantly being punished by the world around her: this makes her more of a “femme fatale” if anything, with all the motive to bring the patriarchal world around her crumbling down.

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