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Billy Wilder's Film Double Indemnity: The Theme Of Power And Pleasure

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“How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle,” Walter said in the classic film Double Indemnity. This statement sums up the feeling of attraction that people have towards things that they know are bad. Sometimes these things are bad both for the committer and the victim, but other times they hurt the committer more. Why do people want to do things that they know could potentially hurt them? Could it be that, in the criminal’s mind, there is always an underlying benefit in committing crimes? Whenever someone is planning to do something harmful or destructive, especially in films, they must have two key incentives in order to follow through with the act: pleasure and power. These two key things can be found as the incentives for Walter misdemeanor in the movie Double Indemnity.

Pleasure is means different things to different people because everyone finds pleasure in different things. One man’s entertainment can be another man’s torture. A person who is looking to commit a crime must have his own particular pleasure in mind. This can be seen in Walter. From the very beginning Walter was wildly attracted to Phyllis. With her flouncy blonde hair, teeny little anklet, and provocative manner, Phyllis became an addiction to Walter. He just had to have her and he was willing to do anything to get her. This attraction caused him to murder her husband, and eventually Phyllis. Once Walter got the idea that the only way to be with Phyllis was to kill her husband, he could think of nothing else until the act was done. “I’m crazy about you baby,” Walter whispers as Phyllis throws herself at him. It was the enticement of potential pleasure that got Walter to do what he did.

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Power plays a prevalent role in people’s decisions. When a person is power hungry, they will do whatever it takes to get that power. This can be seen as another attribute in Walter. Walter is a man who has chosen the life of a salesman over any other job offer. He likes to be in control of who he talks with and when he talks to them. He likes to not report to anyone but himself directly. This shows just how much he values power. The first time he visits the Dietrichson household, he pushes his way past the maid and feeds the Dietrichson’s fish as if he lives there. He makes himself very comfortable in the home as if to take over the place and assert his dominance over everyone that lives there. Walter’s struggle for power is very obvious as he decides the entire plan for murder. He must be in control at all times and over all things. Even after Walter murdered Mr. Dietrichson he still had to gain all of the power that Mr. Dietrichson left behind. He became a father figure to Mr. Dietrichson only daughter as if to usurp all every aspect of power he could from him. As if stealing his wife and taking his life was not enough. Walter’s thirst for power drove him to do the unthinkable.

Once Walter let the combination of pleasure and power drive his actions, the inevitable happened. He took part of a horrible murder. Walter’s two flaws inevitably led to his downfall. Once the act was done and he didn’t get his pleasure from Phyllis, things started to get out of hand. He murdered her because he could no longer get what he desired from her. Once all of his planning for the crime was over and he was no longer in power of his situation, Walter could no longer keep himself emotionally together. The loss of his control of power led to him confessing all of his misdemeanors to Keyes. As a person with the traits of pleasure and power driving his decisions, Walter’s actions were nothing more than a matter of time.


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