‘Yellowjackets’ is Pure Hard-Boiled Noir (Plus Cannibalism)
This article contains SPOILERS for season one of Yellowjackets.
The first season of Yellowjackets just finished up, to the enjoyment of everyone who didn’t attempt eating a meat-based dinner while the show was on. There has been a lot of talk about the series’ influences; is it the “next Lost”? After all, both utilize extended flashbacks and feature plane crashes in remote, mysterious (but not that remote and mysterious) locations. Is it The Lord of the Flies but in the ‘90s with more Seal-based singalongs? Or, um, Hannibal with multiple Hannibals who are also MILFs?
One aspect of the show that’s arguably been overlooked is how great of a noir it is. The film noir movement, famously, began in the 1940s, extended into neo-noirs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and later into some of the best (but mostly the horniest) movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
There’s no one definition of what constitutes a noir, but in the 21st century, the cynical crime stories that could easily fall into the neo-noir category have found far more success on television than in film. Shows like Breaking Bad, True Detective, and Mare of Easttown, just to name a few, were all huge hits, whereas the recent Nightmare Alley bombed at the box office – further proving that it should have been called Nightmare Alley, Kind of Like the Alley Where Batman’s Parents Were Killed.
Yellowjackets ticks many of the noir boxes; it’s just way less obvious thanks to its focus on a burgeoning teen cannibal cult rather than a haggard detective in a rain-soaked trenchcoat. The flashback structure, for example, definitely recalls Lost, but it’s also one of the more common staples of film noir. Usually, it involves the protagonist thinking back to some unpleasant memory, sometimes while speaking into … a half-melted clarinet?
The core of the present-day story is ultimately a good old-fashioned pulpy mystery; Nat is the morally-compromised, hard-boiled detective investigating a murder that the authorities mistakenly believe is a suicide. The odds are stacked against her, and her path is clearly heading nowhere good, but she can’t let it go. What could be more noir than that? Not to mention how the season also features a botched blackmail scheme, a kidnapping, multiple murders, and an uncomfortably prolonged corpse disposal scene.
The premise of Yellowjackets also ties into one of the central themes of classic film noir, which was arguably an artistic manifestation of post-World War II anxieties and growing social unease. Many noirs were literally about veterans adjusting to civilian life, and a newfound moral malleability, after witnessing the horrors of war firsthand. Yellowjackets throws its characters into a similar boat, with the crash essentially standing in for the war -- the past collective trauma that changed the way its characters now see the world.
Of course, the biggest difference (in addition to the cannibalism) is that while classic film noirs were almost exclusively told from a male perspective, the story of Yellowjackets undoubtedly belongs to several female characters. Some of the noir archetypes get genderswapped as well, like how Shauna’s boyfriend Adam, so suspicious that he inspired a gagillion internet theories, essentially filled the role of the mysterious femme fatale, the possibly duplicitous love interest our protagonist can never fully trust. Who knows, maybe season two will include a subplot about a much sought-after bird statuette.
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Top Image: Showtime