The Passenger (Profession: reporter)

"Neither lucidity nor clarity can be counted among my qualities", says Antonioni when talking about this film. Yes, fine, but this is still a step forward from the inscrutable mysteries of Blow-Up for example. The Passenger actually has a plot and a sense of intrigue. Some parts almost feel like an arty version of James Bond – there are gun-runners, luxurious locations, fashionable clothes, and even the resemblance of a Bond girl. And while Jack Nicholson succumbs to the same existential ennui that all Antonioni protagonists go through, he adds a certain energy to the dissolution by virtue of being Jack Nicholson.*

Antonioni is very exercised by the notion of objectivity in this film – Nicholson is a news reporter who has to stand apart and detached from the material he is reporting on. But that attitude to reality leads to disengagement. He undergoes a "personal revolution" and changes identities with a man who does have skin in the game – supporting anti-government guerillas in an unnamed oppressive African country. But underlying this urge for connection with the world is a desire to escape banality, a personal one for Antonioni, who mentions the temptation to forget "my loves and my duties" and "begin another adventure". It's a paradoxical flight from the reality of the world, motivated by an urge to involve yourself more deeply in it. The disappointment comes in the realisation that the James Bond fantasy is equally compromised and unfulfilling.

Only death offers release. Antonioni is known for his endings but The Passenger provides his most epically elliptical yet – a technically complicated tracking shot that shows everything around the main event, but not the event itself. It's a signature move – the camera in Antonioni's films constantly drifts away from the characters and onto their surroundings, as if to emphasise the point that the universe keeps spinning regardless of their actions. For Antonioni, this "freedom" of the camera to go anywhere mirrors the freedom Nicholson gains in adopting a new identity. But the gambit catches up with him – and as he expires it's almost as if his soul finally becomes one with the camera and begins drifting outwards. But actually, you can't step out of the world, no matter how free you are from attachment. And the camera is never free from perspective either – it always tracks and records according to the (in this case, highly convoluted) whims of the person behind it.

* David Hemmings in Blow-Up and Alain Delon in The Eclipse were similarly more lively, which might be why these films are more palatable than the ponderous melodrama of The Adventure or The Night.

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