Sunset Boulevard represents one of the best uses of a protagonist narrator in the past hundred years of film.
Using the protagonist as a narrator is a tactic that is abundant in the noir genre from which Sunset Boulevard takes many of its stylistic cues. But this technique has varying degrees of success. A reasonably famous example of such a narrator going awry is Harrison Ford’s monotone accompanying the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner (which was entirely removed from the director’s cut and final cut of the film).
Still, when its intrusions are not overbearing, distracting, or obvious, the narrator’s voice can be an inoffensive tool to aid in exposition and to smooth out transitions from scene to scene. But can it be more than that? Sunset Boulevard shows us the answer is, ‘yes!’ What sets the narration here so far ahead is the way that the context and presentation of the voiceover of Joe Gillis (portrayed by William Holden) directly supports both the emotional authenticity and the central themes of the film.