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A stylized shot of Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger", depicting Jack Nicholson's and Maria Schneider's characters looking at each other in a car.

Traveling Ephemera: On Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger” (1975)

Michelangelo Antonioni is a director whose characters, more or less, travel within an assorted ephemera. Life unfolds in the moment and they are not left pondering the consequences. Humans are presented as a small species—lost and without a higher purpose. As example, in L’Avventura, a woman goes missing on an island only to then have her friends abandon her search midway through the film. We never see her again, and presumably neither do they, but in those moments of searching, her friends manage to seek a destination beyond their affluent lives. However, upon leaving the island, they ultimately return to their shallow endeavors. Likewise, in La Notte, which takes place over a single night, socialites breeze in and out of rooms while at a party as the evening keeps them contained. Over time, the night consumes, and it becomes the very thing that holds them in—unending and aimless. Once daylight arrives, all has gone.

The Passenger is a film where one’s identity is easily replaced by another. Have you ever wondered what it might be like to travel as someone else, and in that travel become someone else? How the story unfolds is this: David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a reporter who is stuck in a remote town in Africa, wishing to create a political documentary. In the room across from him is Mr. Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), a man who says he has no close friends or family. The two chat in flashback after Locke uncovers Robertson’s dead body. Yet rather than inform the hotel staff that the man in the next room is dead, Locke drags the corpse across the hall and into his room. Exchanging passport photos, he assumes Robertson’s identity. Why he is willing to assume his life we don’t know, other than perhaps a plane ticket out? By remaining a short-term stranger to everyone around him, Locke can pull it off. […]