True Detective: a noir travel among the swamps of human soul

Luisiana, 1995: an investigation conducted by detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) commences after the disappearance of several women and children, in which the suspicion of satanic rites hangs. With the aid of flashbacks, the two detectives explain the story after the case is reopened in 2012.

True Detective is a critically acclaimed HBO crime noir drama created and written by Nic Pizzolatto, and directed by Cary Fukunaga. It is an anthological series with 8 episodes per season. Feeling more like a film than a short series, True Detective encompasses different characters, settings and directors each season – Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn are set to be the next cop duo. But will they live up to the first? Indeed, plaudit goes to the two main actors, who are in a state of grace. Leaving behind his sex symbol role, Matthew McConaughey seems unstoppable and insatiable for awards – after winning the Oscar as Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, it feels as though he craves a piece of cake from TV. Woody Harrelson, well known for films such as The Thin Red Line, melds perfectly with the role of McConaughey, although the two characters are seemingly portrayed as opposites.

Usually noir films foil the contrast between good and evil, and black and white, but this is only partially true in TD. In the programme, Rust and Marty are not that ‘white’ with everyone being the opposite of what they appear: one is a Zarathustra rattling off existential pearls instead of pleasantries, a pessimist, misanthrope visionary and philosopher. The other is human, all too human, in a false joyful life, that hides the chaos by drinking bottle after bottle, or seducing lover after lover. A common man combined with a caustic, few-worded partner. He is a man who replies to the nihilistic reflections with statements such as, “You’re the Michael Jordan of the sons of bitches”.

As revealed by Pizzolatto, not only is the series overflowing with literary references, such as those from The Yellow King by R.W. Chambers, and Alan Moore, but it is also been inspired by one of the most controversial, yet lesser known writers, Thomas Ligotti. Often referred to as the greatest living horror writer, Ligotti is such a demure figure that his fans once doubted his existence. It is Ligotti’s work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, that inspired some of the series’ most memorable lines such as “we are creatures that should not exist by natural law.”

Furthermore, the sereis’ third episode ‘Locked Room‘, which refers to a topic in detective genre, proves of interest for the crime to be solved seems to have been made in illogical circumstances. Indeed, the locked room is the human mind, the scene of the crime and the most complex puzzle: this expression captures the difference between Cohle and Hart, and is the realization that “man is the cruelest animal.”

Hart is an unconsciously doldrums man trying to make sense of everything, while still keeping things under control. Rust fell into his locked room, realizing the universe reveals the lack of a sense of existence, and that the mind is nothing more than this damn claustrophobic room, with no mysteries to solve. Despite the references to the Lynchian Twin Peaks, Rust’s visions ultimately reveal that there is no supernatural – the worst is always human.

“(…) To realize that all your life, you know, all you love, hate all you, all your memory, all your pain-it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, You Had a dream inside a locked room, to dream about being a person. And like a lot of dreams. . . there’s a monster at the end of it. ” – Rust Cohle, ‘The Locked Room’, True Detective.

And that monster is just a man, nothing more – the worse one you can imagine, yes, but still an individual who is the result of the violence and brutality that nature does not reveal more clearly than a mirror. An animal in its natural habitat.

Desolate landscapes, grumpy and often disquieting people – abandoned to themselves and folk tales – are the setting to the monster rush, with wild Louisiana as the third protagonist. Everything left to man is darkness – to his primitive and swampy consciousness.

The series choice of music, especially the theme song ‘Far From Any Road’, performed by country rock band Handsome Family, proves to be an excellent choice. Also noteworthy is the awesome six-minute tracking shot: one day and a half of footage, 7 clapperboards and a very GTA McConaughey, which resulted in action that just could not be stopped.

Some criticized the series, labelling it as “not revolutionary”. However, these people did not grasp the idea that revolution is not what we need here. Yes, TD does not have a novel plot or characters. The show has been gleaned from noir films, Nietzsche’s philosophy, and horror literature – the show’s premise is not to present a new idea to viewers, but instead to bring these old concepts back to the top.

TD is about men in crisis: showcasing modern men, however simple or deep they are, and primitive men, who are known as impulsive and reject moral values as well as venerating Satan. Like other crime shows, True Detective is a metaphor of the human soul.

Its shadows and lights, but does not make a deep distinction between good and evil. Rather, it focuses on showing the shades of the same picture: evil is a reality and you can choose to deny it, to be a victim then a butcher, or to recognize and deal with it.

Alessia Agostinelli


Originally published by The Boar, Official Magazine of the University of Warwick