The Passenger (1975)

The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni. The plot is boilerplate thriller: switched identity in Africa leads to chase across Europe in search of big secret, with reporters, arms dealers, and a vulnerable ingenue all thrown in the mix. Sounds like a Liam Neeson vehicle. BUT WAIT. In Antonioni’s hands, the thrills become lugubrious, the chase slows down to a crawl, the gloomy main character, played by a perennially stoned Jack Nicholson, constantly doubts his own motives and purpose. The outcome is a chase picture turned inside out, an existential journey into self-reflection. Call it the Antonioni effect (not for everyone: Orson Welles found him boring; John Fahey got into a fistfight with the guy). The legendary penultimate shot of Passenger forever changed the way movies are made, altering the subject/object grammar on which all previous film narrative relied (and anticipating the sort of free-form camera movement that Terrence Malik would take as his own). Pop culture bonus: the ingenue is played by Maria Schneider, the actress from Last Tango in Paris. She’s obviously bombed out her skull in this flick, too.

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