The Passenger (1975)
April 28, 2016 6:05 PM - Subscribe

A frustrated war correspondent, unable to find the war he's been asked to cover, takes the risky path of co-opting the I.D. of a dead arms dealer acquaintance.

NYTimes: What exactly is bothering David Locke, the title character in "The Passenger," is the big question. The film opens with Locke, played with a stunning admixture of emotional lethargy and sexual heat by Mr. Nicholson, trying and failing to make a documentary about a guerrilla movement in Africa (with Algeria standing in for Chad). Locke's wheels are spinning, at times literally, as when his jeep gets stuck in a sand dune. Then, one day at his hotel, he discovers that the man in the next room, a man of roughly his same age, weight, height and physiognomy named Robertson, has died. Without explanation, Locke methodically switches identities with this other man, stealing his passport and his life.

Slant: A fatalistic tale of identity, destiny, coincidence, existential malaise, and the boundaries between the real and the imagined, Antonioni’s pensive examination of the deceptive, destructive sway that dreams hold on their creators derives its magic from a deliberate inscrutability, an opaqueness in which familiar storytelling conventions are upended, and clear-cut analysis and categorization prove frustratingly insufficient. As it hurtles toward its climactic moment of transcendent liberation, The Passenger offers only answers that lead to more questions, its larger meaning(s) as open to interpretation as the vast Saharan desert that provides the film’s initial setting.

Senses of Cinema: There are so many elegantly framed scenes in The Passenger that could only have been drawn by Antonioni: Locke’s first sighting of the Girl on a bench in London; his discovery of Robertson’s body and sudden recognition of the doppelganger lying dead in front of him; the haunting, odd and beautiful Gaudi buildings in Barcelona; the failed rendezvous at that white, weirdly geometric village; the Plaza de la Iglesia; and the brilliant payoff to it all at the Hotel de las Glorias.

The Passenger’s slow pace, long, lingering shots, focus on emptiness, and detached, almost brutally objective point-of-view are the Antonioni trademarks on full display here.

One single shot, The Passenger’s most famous (and penultimate) scene, is a seven-minute long dolly which begins in Locke’s hotel room looking out into a dusty, run-down square, pulls out through the bars in the hotel window into the square, rotates 180 degrees, and finally tracks back into the hotel room. Only the opening shot of Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and, of course, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) can match it for a breathless, almost operatic display of cinema’s technical and artistic resources. Nicholson, in his commentary, calls the shot an “Antonioni joke”.

Roger Ebert: When a film so resolutely refuses to deliver on the level of plot, what we are left with is tone. "The Passenger" is about that being in a place where nobody knows you or wants to know you, and you are struck by your insignificance. There was a world where it was important that Robertson was Robertson and Locke was Locke. In the desert among strangers, it is not even important that Robertson be Robertson and Locke be Locke. The little white car that criss-crosses the square in the final shot belongs to a driving school. To its driver, it is important to pass the course and get a driver's license. Robertson and Locke disappear, and this is first gear, this is second, here is the clutch, here is the brake.

posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total)
I love this movie, it's so slow and languid and atmospheric. The long, single-take shots. I am a big Antonioni fan, especially of Blow Up, in part because his films are so much more like experiences than just sitting watching a movie, and he is one of the original masters of creeping dread, even when nothing really ends up happening you feel like it might.
posted by biscotti at 8:11 AM on April 30, 2016

This movie felt like watching a poem. Rarely have I been held in such thrall by a movie where I understood so little.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:33 PM on May 7, 2016

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