Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Passenger (1975)

"If you try hard enough, perhaps you can reinvent him." Michelangelo Antonioni's slippery meditation on identity asks the question: At what point do you become who you say you are? Jack Nicholson's detached reporter David Locke, disgusted with modern indifference and frustration of communication (the opening scene sees him asking African tribal natives, "Do you speak English?"), attempts to disengage from the world by assuming the identity of a dead man and disappearing; along the way, he meets a young girl (Maria Schneider) with no discernable identity at all -- the credits refer to her as "Girl." Antonioni often plays up the relationship between his characters and the environment they inhabit, and here we see David trying to fade into his surroundings much in the way that Anna was swallowed by the landscape in L'Avventura; while a synthesis is occasionally achieved (note the late bit where the camera pans to follow cars driving past Nicholson and Schneider, as though the two of them were merely functions of the car they drive), the landscape here is ultimately a hostile one and rejects David. Despite his efforts at escape, David is trapped by a society he has helped to create (i.e. the interview where the subject complains to David, "Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers will be about me," suggesting that the piece was written in David's head before he sat down). So on one level, his disappearance has been a failure, but what about from an existential point of view? At the end of the film, is he still David Locke, or has he become Robertson? And if he is Robertson, is he the same Robertson who died in an African hotel room, or is this a different Robertson? I think Antonioni leaves the possibilities open; David never seems to fully commit to the charade, but he never identifies as still being himself, either. Maybe that's it: In an attempt to become someone else, David only goes part of the way and becomes nobody. He tries to take the person of another but ends up only losing his own. The awesome final shot seems to show us a tragedy, but look closer: We end up viewing it from the outside, in intimations and second-hand glimpses, because there can be no tragedy if there's no there there -- if David is nobody now, then nothing has happened and nothing has been lost. Maria Schneider kills a lot of this film's third act for me -- Schneider, like her character, has always struck me as an exquisite blank, and watching her try to wrestle with Antonioni's oblique dialogue is painful -- but otherwise, this is some fine ruminatory stuff.

Grade: B


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home