Bosley Crowther, film critic of The New York Times, called it a "fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed". Crowther had reservations, describing the "usual Antonioni passages of seemingly endless wanderings" as "redundant and long"; nevertheless, he called Blowup a "stunning picture - beautifully built up with glowing images and color compositions that get us into the feelings of our man and into the characteristics of the mod world in which he dwells". Of the film's ending, Roger Ebert wrote in The Great Movies: "What remains is a hypnotic conjuring act, in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep of bored alienation and then drifts away again. This is the arc of the film. Not 'Swinging London.' Not existential mystery. Not the parallels between what Hemmings does with his photos and what Antonioni does with Hemmings. But simply the observations that we are happy when we are doing what we do well, and unhappy seeking pleasure elsewhere. I imagine Antonioni was happy when he was making this film."Ebert also published a letter by actor Ronan O'Casey which claimed that the film's mysterious nature is the product of an "unfinished" production, and that scenes which would have "depict[ed] the planning of the murder and its aftermath -- scenes with Vanessa, Sarah Miles and Jeremy Glover, Vanessa's new young lover who plots with her to murder me -- were never shot because the film went seriously over budget." "Blow Up" is a frenetic, insinuating, paranoid and "what if" film, but yet it´s slow paced and energetic at the same time. I love how Antonioni has used the "Swinging London" (clothes, fashion, music, environments, people) and particularly the fashion scene to its full extent and that adds so many layers to the film. The anti-hero Thomas, a self obsessed, cruel and with a larger than life persona is played perfectly by Hemmings. His facial expressions and movements carries the whole film and with a young Vanessa Redgrave as his counterpart we see movie magic on the screen. The storyline is based on the idea that everyone perceives reality in their own way and ultimately see only what they want to see. We can be blind to reality in our own little bubble and that feels even more current today than it did in 1966. The end shows that what seems to not exist in reality can actually exist in your mind. What is true and what is not true? It´s in the eye, ears and mind of the beholder. Michelangelo Antonioni offered little in the way of insight into his intentions with the film, and was always clear that meaning wasn't meant to be spelled out. "By developing with enlargers...things emerge that we probably don't see with the naked eye....The photographer in Blow-Up, who is not a philosopher, wants to see things closer up. But it so happens that, by enlarging too far, the object itself decomposes and disappears. Hence there's a moment in which we grasp reality, but then the moment passes. This was in part the meaning of Blow-Up." Vanessa Redgrave offered her take on the film in her autobiography. "Blow-Up was about the unity and difference of essence and phenomena, the conflict between what is, objectively, and what is seen, heard, or grasped by the individual." "Blow Up" is a testament to the 60´s "Swinging London" and a truly engaging movie experience. Trivia: Michelangelo Antonioni's first choice for the role of Jane was the Swedish actress Evabritt Strandberg, after spotting her in Bo Widerberg's film Kärlek 65 (1965). She went to London to meet Antonioni. He approved of her, but the three MGM bosses present at the meeting didn't like her "big nose". The role went to Vanessa Redgrave.
Though this generation may not do things exactly as they've been done before, they have no more success in attempting to make sense of the world around them than their predecessors, wandering around desperately attempting to right what they perceive to be a wrong in their insufficient experience in life. Similarly inconclusive, the film refuses to provide concrete answers for the narrative questions it raises, and rightfully so; whether or not he's borne witness to a murder isn't the point. He can continue to blow-up photographs searching for answers all he wants, but there will never be any there to satisfy his existential insufficiencies. Life isn't as conclusive as that.
The story is very open-ended, people seem to aimlessly meander through scenes, the plot is ridiculous, and the use of symbolism is heavy-handed - to put it mildly. Watch it if you must, but you've been warned.
One such person living a mod lifestyle is Thomas (David Hemmings, in an iconic role), a young photographer with a flat any artist would dream of. When we're first introduced to Thomas, he is in the process of a photo shoot, his star being supermodel Verushcka von Lehndorff. The scene, covered in big hair, put-upon sexual tension, and poses that would only be appropriate for "Interview", is remarkable: it sets the stage for the rest of the film.
There are the kinds of masterpieces that hit you emotionally, like the latest Steven Spielberg project or the series finale of the greatest show on television; but then there are the kinds that Michelangelo Antonioni makes. "Blowup" is drenched in silence, enigma, danger, boredom, fashion, style - it's a complete work stacked to the top of impeccably shot scenes, scenes that don't always add up but leave an abiding impression on the viewer, not easily shaken off.
Following his photo shoot, Thomas takes a trip to the park, sees a fascinating couple, and being a photographer, lets out his inner paparazzi in the sake of art. The woman (Vanessa Redgrave), rattled by Thomas' nerve, confronts him; but even we can tell that there isn't something right about the situation.
Later on, she arrives at his flat, angry and demanding she have the footage. She does everything she can - even taking her top off at one point, in hopes of seductive manipulation - but she doesn't get her way. When developing the said pictures, Thomas is reminded of the woman's strange fury. And through detailed analysis and a series of blowups, he finds that it wasn't just he, the woman, and her boyfriend in the park: there was also a murderer and a victim.
We don't find out who the murderer or the victim is, by the way - if we did, "Blowup" wouldn't have that same overall feeling of emptiness it holds with such careful restraint. It contains an emptiness not like a hollow Andy Warhol film, but one that reflects a consistent tedium in life. Once Thomas finds that he has discovered a killing, there is a spark of sudden fervor.
In the best scene of the film, Thomas sets every picture of the park side by side, blowup to blowup, making the connection, and we can feel goosebumps creeping up our arms. The scene is edited with seamless energy: the camera pans back in forth between the photos, and finally, plays them in a slide show, with increasing tightness that is just as cloying to us as it is to Thomas.
But "Blowup" shouldn't be mistaken as a murder mystery, because, usually, murder mysteries tell us who was at fault, why it happened. The film is an exercise, a study of the mod culture. The discovery of the death feels like a dramatic event rather than mere plot device. It's like a rock, thrown into a river: at that moment, it creates a rippling effect, creating action everywhere in its wake, only to be covered up once again by the same rat race.
When Thomas actually stumbles upon the body at one point, we come to two conclusions: 1) this man was murdered, in an albeit bloodless way, or 2) he dropped dead, possibly of a heart attack. The latter would certainly explain Vanessa Redgrave's fretful panic. We never truly know. But like "Mulholland Dr." or "L'Avventura" or "La Dolce Vita", there doesn't need to be closure to make a great film. It's our aftertaste that matters, and "Blowup"'s is one of startling obsession.