Comparison of Sin City, Taxi Driver, and Psycho

Noir charms its audience with its dramatic high-contrast cinematography, femme fatales and hyper-masculine main characters. Even though neo noir incorporates the prominent elements of noir, the newer genre is characterized by a much larger range of themes, visual elements, acting style and content. Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City are the great examples of neo-noir films. Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960, is one of the first neo-noir films. Filmed in black and white, the movie touches upon the themes of love, violence, crime and social alienation. One of the main characters, Marion Crane steals her boss’ money and is killed be a maniac, who suffers from dissociative identity disorder.

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Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese in 1976, is a classic example of neo-noir genre. The main character, Travis Bickle, is a taxi driver, suffering from insomnia after the Vietnam War, decides to make the New York City a cleaner place and saves a young girl from her pimp at the cost of bloody violence. Sin City is a 2005 neo-noir film directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodrigues and Quentin Tarantino. The film is divided into four parts, which focus on four different stories of Hartigan, a police man, who wants to save Nancy from a pedophile; Marv, who tries to find his lover’s murderer; Dwight, who tries to save the prostitutes of the Old Town from the criminal Jackie Boy and the corrupted police’s revenge for his death; and the Man, who kills for money. Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City follow basic conventions of the neo-noir film genre and share similarities in content, message, style, cinematography, sound, and editing, while differ in acting styles they use.

Neo-noir Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City have similarities in content and message they deliver to the audience. Neo-noir genre can be characterized by a pessimistic view of the world, mirroring the anxieties that plague American society. Neo-noir films usually focus on a morally ambivalent outsider, who lives in a city overwhelmed by violence and crime. The main characters of these films are criminals as well as the victims of the situations they are in. Hitchcock’s film Psycho’s main heroine Marion steals the money because she does not earn much and needs them to help her lover to repay for his father’s debts. Norman becomes a serial killer because of a childhood trauma, caused by his father’s death and his mother’s attraction to a new man that resulted in her neglect of her son. The character wears his mother’s clothes and pretends being her to fill the gap in their relationship and to forget that she is dead. Thus, the film suggests that its characters are flawed because of the unfair world they live in. Taxi Driver also points out the society’s role in making people spoilt.

The film somehow recalls such noir films as The Searchers (1956), Fight Club (1999), and The Machinist (2004). Travis Bickle witnesses the city’s moral decay at night. Dissatisfied with the authorities’ incapability to stop violence and prostitution in the streets, he decides to take the law into his own hands. Thus, ironically, Bickle stops violence with violence. Similarly to Psycho and Taxi Driver, Sin City illustrates a corrupt, morally decayed and violent society, in which priests help cannibals find victims, police assists the rich people in their crimes and women are either prostitutes or strippers to survive. The level of violence in Sin City, however, is much higher in than in the other two films and even hyperbolized in order to demonstrate the rottenness of the society more explicitly. The film makes an impression that the city itself is a beast that anticipates its citizens’ moral fall.  To resist the prevailing crime and cruelty of Basin City, Hartigan, Marv and Dwight have to kill. Thus, Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City focus of flawed characters and moral decay of the cities they live in as well as point out the society’s role in making the people sinful.

The three films can be characterized by interesting cinematography, sounds, mise-en-scene and editing that fit into neo-noir style. Neo noir films are characterized by the use of low-key and high-contrast lighting, underlining of certain colors for dramatic effect, well-constructed mise-en-scene and the use of various editing techniques to create the atmosphere of anxiety. Taxi Driver is filmed in color. However, the director uses red and blue light to foreshadow Travis growing rage and its violent outcome. The use of jump cuts and extremely long shots, like the one after Travis’ first murder, reflect the main character’s disconnection from the world and paranoia. The opening mise-en-scene consists of extreme close-ups of Bickle’s eyes observing the crowded city streets at night through several point-of-view shots. The music is disturbing and consists of high-pitched notes. The streets and the lights are blurred, reflecting Travis’s foggy perception of reality. Also, a shade of red light covers the main character’s face, symbolizing his sinister nature and highlighting the movie’s dark tone.

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In contrast to Taxi Driver, Psycho is shot in black and white. Nevertheless, it reflects its characters and creates the atmosphere of suspense and tension through the well-considered use of framing and lightning. In the scene, when Norman brings Marion some food. They are shown in a mid shot, and the camera is situated on eye level to demonstrate the distance between the characters. The scene is characterized by low and high-contrast lightning. The scene’s frame is divided by the wall, reflecting the difference between Marion’s and Norman’s worlds. The male character’s reflection in the window symbolizes dissociative identity disorder he suffers from.

Hitchcock uses realistic sounds to create tension. For instance, in the shower scene, the director mixes the sound of the knife penetrating flesh and pouring water, without showing the stabbing itself. These realistic sounds make the audience imagine the sequence without seeing it. Sin City also follows the main conventions of the neo-noir film genre in terms of cinematography and style. The film’s editing includes long shots and jump cuts. The directors also use realistic sounds, but also include hyperbolized ones in fighting scenes. Similarly to Psycho and Taxi Driver, Sin City is filmed in low-key lightning. Even though, Sin City is mostly black and white, it contains the digital coloring of certain objects such as the victim’s eyes, Goldie’s hair and skin, red heart-shaped bed as well as Junior’s yellow skin and blood. The mise-en-scene, where Marv and Goldie lie in a heart-shaped bed is characterized by interesting cinematography.

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Marv is black-and-white, while the bed and Goldie’s hair and skin are colorful. The coloring reflects Marv’s self-image and his romantic feelings to Goldie. The characters seem to be disconnected from the rest of the world because of the darkness around their bed. The couple is shown from a high angle, and the camera zooms out to reinforce an impression of their isolation. The next shot, however, demonstrates the fragileness of their happiness with the maniac’s figure at the door.

The difference in size between Marv, Goldie and the stranger’s shadow reflects the couple’s vulnerability in the violent world that does not tolerate love. Thus, cinematography, sounds, editing and mise-en-scene support the atmosphere of horror, disturbance and suspense in Psycho, Taxi Driver and Sin City.

The three films differ in acting style. Psycho can be characterized by naturalistic acting style, since Hitchcock disliked method acting. In contrast to it, Taxi Driver involves method acting by Robert De Niro. Sin City can be characterized by more artificial acting, as it is a comics-based movie with hyper-masculine and almost superhero main characters. Thus, the films use different acting styles.

Therefore, Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City follow basic conventions of the neo-noir genre, having similarities in content, message, style, cinematography, sound, and editing as well as differences in acting styles. The three films address the issue of immoral and corrupted society, pushing people to commit crimes to survive. Despite some differences in color, the movies share similarities in lightning, sound, style and editing. Psycho, Taxi Driver, and Sin City differ in acting styles they are based on; however, this difference makes each of them special.