'Forget It, Jake, It's Chinatown:' What The Movie Line Means

By Jacob Shelton
American actor Jack Nicholson on the set of Chinatown, written and directed by Polish-French filmmaker Roman Polanski. (Photo by Paramount pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," uttered by Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in the final moments of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, is easily one of the most chilling film moments that audiences have ever witnessed. It's not terrifying in the way that a horror movie is, instead it casts more of an existential dread over the viewer. The line doesn't just sum up the lack of resolution of the film, but it's a phrase that sums up the emptiness that many people find when they search for the meaning behind something terrible.

Brought to life by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston, Chinatown is perhaps the film of the 1970s. It sums up America's contempt for bureaucracy and the paranoia simmering in American cities in the back half of the Nixon administration.

That's really just a guess at the meaning behind this well known line. Polanski has never really spoken about it all that much and screenwriter Robert Towne is likewise mum on the subject. Film fans everywhere have shared a variety of opinions about this final line of Chinatown, and while many of the theories are fascinating it's likely that we'll never know what the line means to the filmmakers. So what does the line really mean?

Since the line is somewhat about the futility of seeking an explanation, a valid answer might be "Forget it -- it's Chinatown." Valid, but annoying. We'll dig a little deeper.

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