The Passenger (1975)

The Passenger
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Mark Peploe, Michelangelo Antonioni and Peter Wollen
(number 347)

Here’s another movie I had never heard of and had no idea what it was about.

Slooooow to start. It was slow enough that I started to think about all the films on this list which are set in deserts: Wake in Fright, Paris Texas, Rain Man (partially), Electra Glide in Blue, The English Patient, Ace in the Hole and Lawrence of Arabia. It is certainly a fascinating landscape, and quickly makes the whole feel of a movie bleak. I want to say it’s a great emphasis for a certain type of character but I’m struggling to find a commonality in the leads for the above. A certain kind of ruthlessness is shared by some, but definitely not all of them.

There’s a very cool long tracking shot of the changing of passports and then flash back (in camera, very jarring before I realised what was going on.)

In a kind of reverse- Hitchcock plot a man steals the identity and life of a man with a life rather different to his own, when the other dies in the hotel they’re both staying at in Africa. Only the dead man is an arms dealer, and that is a risky line of work, especially when you’re dealing with revolutionary fighters.

There are a number of interesting locations in this film, from domestic apartments to Barcelona… it’s all, of course, terribly 70s with the fashion and the hairstyles. I like the performance Jack Nicholson puts in, it seems easier, less affected and over the top than some of his later work.

Generally the movie didn’t grab me though. It was very slow, and very… yeah. There was a pretty neat couple of lock off long shots, but I don’t feel like they added a whole lot to my viewing experience or displayed particular artistic flair. I could be convinced otherwise maybe, but… eh.

Does it make me love the people? Not really. It was a bit on the boring side for me, and it seemed like bad things happened to people who were basically being shits. I’m sure there’s stuff to say about identity and the fluidity of who we are, etc, but ultimately I don’t feel like Locke changed much of who he was when he became Robertson.

Bechdel test: No, Rachel seems to be the only named woman, with the other lead woman character only credited as ‘Girl’ despite being pretty important to the storyline. The women are only characters in relation to Locke, which, given it’s a tight point of view on him doesn’t surprise too much. It is pretty lazy story telling but I’m not sure what else I can expect from a 70s film.

Best line:

Did you love each other?
Rachel: yes, I think so, we just didn’t make each other very happy.

I also liked the moment where Locke/Robertson stuck his fake moustache on a lamp.

The Girl: Isn’t it funny how things happen? All the shapes we make. Wouldn’t it be terrible to be blind?

David: I know a man who was blind. When he was nearly 40 years old, he had an operation and regained his sight.

The Girl: How was it like?

David Locke: At first he was elated… really high. Faces… colors… landscapes. But then everything began to change. The world was much poorer than he imagined. No one had ever told him how much dirt there was. How much ugliness. He noticed ugliness everywhere. When he was blind… he used to cross the street alone with a stick. After he regained his sight… he became afraid. He began to live in darkness. He never left his room. After three years he killed himself.

State of Mind: Ehhh, boring. I just wasn’t feeling this. It seems like a movie I may have enjoyed more if I’d seen it at the theatre during a film festival screening, but then I may have just found it terribly boring then as well. I feel like there was more that could have been explored with this premise, especially with Rachel’s reaction to her husband’s apparent death – there’s an emotional journey there barely touched on. But it was never her story. Locke seemed to learn very little, instead relishing the laconic ‘know it all’ attitude even though he was quickly in over his head.

Watched movie count

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