Sunset Boulevard – A parody of Hollywood

The movie “Sunset Boulevard” from 1950, which was directed by Billie Wilder, starts at the actual existing Boulevard of the same name in Los Angeles. We learn about the exposition through the narration of the main character Joe Gillis, who at this time was floating dead in a pool. Nevertheless, he starts with ironic comments about his death right away.

We skip ahead 6 months and see the main character struggling to pay his debts and is therefore about to lose his car to loan sharks. He is not able to sell his script to the studio, as the owner keeps talking about business and Gillis insults the audience (both, the audience in the movie and us). As he is fleeing from the loan sharks his tire pops and he is forced to park at an old mansion, where he is mistaken for a mortician by silent film star Nora Desmond. She expects him to bury her dead monkey, but he recognizes her and tells her that she “used to be big”. She replies angrily: “I am big; it is the pictures that got small”. At this point I thought that the acting was exaggerated, but this was probably an homage to silent films.

Gillis agrees to review her scripts and thinks they are horrible, but eventually develops a plot on his own, using the disillusioned woman. The pool is mentioned for the second time. Mrs. Desmond has strong narcissism, shown in several scenes (e.g. when we watch on her movies as a film in a film with a lot of pictures of her below the screen). Gillis starts to condemn her. However, she starts enjoying the attention of Gillis and buys expensive stuff for him. He has to move to the main house because of heavy rain and we learn that there are no locks on the doors, as Mrs. Desmond has had several suicide attempts. They celebrate New Year’s Eve together accompanied only by their butler and a band. This is the third time we hear about the pool, as Mrs. Desmond wants to fill it up again.

After confessing that he used her he leaves to a party with his “real friends”, which leads to another suicide attempt of Mrs. Desmond. Gillis justifies his actions with the phrase “Who wants true?”, also referring to the movie industry. The main character however is now trapped and decides to stay with her. In a turn of events Mrs. Desmond believes in a comeback to the movies, although Paramount actually just wants to use her car. This leads to a net of lies and a double life of Gillis, as he starts working on a script and eventually starts a romance with the woman, who is the fiancé of his best friend. We also get to know that Mrs. Desmond’s Butler was her first husband and fakes fan letters ever since she disappeared from the screen. Eventually, Mrs. Desmond starts to find out all these lies. As a result, she shoots Gillis in anger, who falls in the pool where the police found him in the exposition. Mrs. Desmond has one last moment of fame, as she thinks that the cameras are actually here to capture her stage performance; Max plays along, granting her this one last wish and proving his loyalty once more.

In the movie Gillis is not your average hero, nor antihero. He has doubtful morals, lies and swears. He tricks his friends and is making sarcastic comments throughout the movie. Despite this fact he also falls in love with a woman that seems unreachable, giving him some human characteristics.

I noticed some artistic elements that instantly caught my eyes, which tried to involve the audience in the movie just like Gillis talking to us from time to time. For example, in one scene we think that the organ playing is non diegetic. However, it turns out that it is actually Max, the butler that plays it in the movie. One scene where the word that Mrs. Desmond arrived spread along the set of Paramount was shot in one scene with the camera following each messenger. Another scene showed her looking in the mirror at an angle that was impossible for her to be able to see herself, as she was looking at the audience.

By showing the pool scene at the beginning the question of the movie is “How did it lead to this” or “Who did it?” rather than “What is going to happen?” There are enough suspects involved, which captivates the viewer.


3 thoughts on “Sunset Boulevard – A parody of Hollywood

  1. Great overall recap on the movie!
    I really enjoyed this movie and the sarcasm Joe Gillis portrayed throughout the entire film. It really tied in with his personality given him being dead from the start, but we didn’t quite know that yet.
    Also! I see that you mentioned the nondiegetic sounds like the organ! Great observation because I missed that, haha.


  2. Awesome layout of the film and how you think it portrays Hollywood!
    From reading your blog I feel like I know a more in depth detail on how the movie was played out. The points you showed of foreshadowing and specific artistic elements really makes me want to watch the film again and see the small attention to detail you saw! The final scene, where Joe falls into the pool when getting shot by the crazy actress, Mrs. Desmond does make you think “how did it lead to this?!”. I remember being so confused, yet not surpassed. Thank you for evaluating this movie with such a keen eye. I enjoyed reading this blog post.


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