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In The Pathos of Failure, Thomas Elsaesser explains the emergence of a new ideology within American filmmaking, which reflects a “fading confidence in being able to tell a story” (280) and the dissolution of psychologically relatable, goal-oriented characters. He elaborates that these unmotivated characters impede the “the affirmative-consequential model of narrative [which] is gradually being replaced by another, whose precise shape is yet to crystallize” (281). Christian Keathley outlined this shape in more detail in Trapped in the Affection Image, where he argued that shifting cultural attitudes resulted in skepticism of the usefulness of action (Keathley). In Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, this crisis of action is a key element of the main characters’ failure, because it stifles the execution of classical narrative and stylistic genre conventions.
In the classical Western and Noir films, narrative is driven by the action of a male protagonist towards a clearly defined, relatable goal. Any lack of motivation or action on the part of the prota…