Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Passenger (1975)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen, Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast:      Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre

A journalist in Africa fakes his own death by swapping identities with a dead arms dealer and proceeds to keep his appointments in various cities in Europe. 

It is another masterpiece from Antonioni dealing with alienation which is a recurring theme in his films. It is the third and final English film he to fulfill his contract with the producer Carlo Ponti. Cinematography is excellent.There is a particular scene in which the girl he encounters in Spain asks him what he is running away from, he asks her to sit with her back against the driving seat, and as they drive through the road laden with trees on either side, the shot of a smiling Maria Schneider is exquisite. The scene is to signify that David Locke, the journalist is running away from his past. He looked unhappy and demotivated as he was slogging away in Africa covering a guerrilla revolution. It is significant that the character is named after the English philosopher John Locke, whose theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern concepts of identity and the self. He was the first to define self as the continuity of consciousness. At birth the mind is a blank state and knowledge is instead determined only through experiences. The character is trying to start again with a clean slate by assuming the identity of a person about whom he doesn't know much. By keeping his appointments he is in the process of putting himself in danger to learn the unknown which is again what he was doing in his career as a journalist. In that sense he cannot run away from his past and falls back to doing what he has always done. 

The ending scene at hotel where Locke is assassinated in a Spanish hotel at twilight is a seven minutes single shot. The film was not universally well received at the time of its release with many critics including Roger Ebert considering it to be pretentious. It is my favorite Antonioni film with an understated performance  by his standards from Jack Nicholson.

Rating: 5/5