Professione: reporter (The Passenger) Reviews
"The Passenger" is a fascinating movie, a cinematic and philosophical masterpiece. I love Antonioni, and this is one of his best. I have watched it several times through the years, each time opening for myself a new moment or a new meaning. The acting is superb, and so is the camera work. The final scene that lasts for seven minutes without anything really happening is sublime. There is also a deep philosophical theme in the movie, uniquely different from other films of the time that also show dissatisfied, lost, or marginalized characters.
Much has been written about the existential symbolism of the film, and it certainly pervades it on a grand scale. However, there is an interesting aspect of this movie which sets it apart from other existentialistic works. In a Sartre-like view, a man is alienated from reality and does not feel welcome in the world nor connected with mankind. But in "The Passenger", it is David Locke's own life that is actually hostile to him. Let me try to explain what I mean. Like many people, he is trying to run away from mundane reality, the job that has been making him jaded, the marriage that's lost its flame. However, instead of making piecemeal changes, he tries to replace his life as a whole - reject it and become someone else. And now it is life itself that's after him, ready to punish him for violating the rules of engagement. It's as if he is just a vessel owned by life, which destroys him as soon as he tries to take matters in his own hands.
At some point in the movie David says that he used to be somebody else, but traded him in (by the way, what a fabulous line). He boasts - he thinks he is in control of his life choices, but will soon find out otherwise. What crushes him in the end is not fate or circumstances or his past that catches up with him - it is life itself, ejecting an unruly passenger. Such juxtaposition of life with a man as a separate, all-powerful entity is unique in the artistic portrayal of existential struggle.
The original title of the movie (in Italian) was "Profession: Reporter". This title would have made perfect sense if the character was an estranged observer of life. However, Jack Nicholson's character is truly a passenger - he is not in the driver's seat, and his privileges are pretty limited. His connection to life is neither cordial nor caring, the same way as there is no human connection between a train passenger and the train operator. David Locke has violated the rules, and his ticket is canceled. The train will continue forward without him.
Captivating and mysterious Maria Schneider plays The Girl. As David jumps from one city to another, he keeps running into her. She is quite an ephemeral character, floating from place to place, seemingly not attached to any mundane or conventional activity like work or family. Having no name in the movie suits her character perfectly - one less connection to real life. Perhaps this is the only kind of people who David can interact with now and who can deal with him. When the police ask David's wife to identify his dead body, she says she doesn't know him. It is true - he has become a complete stranger to her. But when they ask the girl if she knows David, she says yes. Even though they have met only recently, they seem to be people of the same kind. Perhaps like him, the girl is also a passenger? Perhaps we all are.
A movie about identity crisis
Things does not turn so much better, but we are taking a trip around Europe as he hooks up with people. A mixture of "Bonnie & Clyde" and "No Country For Old Men" but never as tense. This is slow, pretty and got a very European look. Great acting and a fantastic final shot that will be the thing to remember from this quite disappointing film me.
6.5 out of 10 cigarette bummers.
The Passenger focuses on the lack of identity human beings struggle with in a global network, constantly running away from where they've previously been in an effort to find new purpose. Nature's ambivalent presence follows the pair wherever they go, a constant reminder of the pointlessness of this endeavor. There are an infinite number of trajectories a life can take (an idea communicated through shots of revolving doors, aerial lift lines, roads) and regardless of how many times we try to veer off course, the destination is always the same. The global disconnect perpetuated by modern interaction only perpetuates this phenomena (this disconnect made plain through an emphasis on architecture unique to different parts of the world).
Antonioni's work is always, in some way or another, a fixation on the ultimate insignificance of human life and individual identity. The modes of communication change (Red Desert focusing on the friction between nature and industry, L'Avventura looking at the impossibility of true human interaction, The Passenger repositioning these themes in a global environment), but the result is the same. Plot is arbitrary, as is the story of a life; when viewed up close, the point is indecipherable. When viewed in the context of the the grand scheme of things through the filter of existentialism, we're nothing. The fact that a message so depressing is constantly spellbinding is a testament to his craft.