The Passenger (film)

name = The Passenger

caption = "The Passenger" film poster
director = Michelangelo Antonioni
writer = Mark Peploe,
Michelangelo Antonioni,
Peter Wollen
starring = Jack Nicholson,
Maria Schneider,
Steven Berkoff,
Ian Hendry
Jenny Runacre
producer = Carlo Ponti
distributor = Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
music = Ivan Vandor
released = 1975
runtime = 119 Min
126 Min
Extended Cut
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0073580

"The Passenger" ("Professione: reporter") is a film directed and co-written by Michelangelo Antonioni, released in 1975, in which Jack Nicholson stars as a reporter in Africa who assumes the identity of a dead stranger. The film competed for the "Palme d'Or" award at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.

Plot summary

David Locke, a television journalist played by Jack Nicholson, is in an African desert searching for rebels. He keeps failing: his contacts abandon him, his Land Rover Defender gives out. Tired of his work, his marriage and his life, he decides to switch identity with a mysterious Englishman staying at the same hotel, Mr Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), who has died suddenly overnight. To assume Robertson's identity, David must carefully cut the photographs out of their passports, swap them, and reseal them. Since the hotel manager has already mistaken him for Robertson, the plan should go off without any hitches.

The ruse works, and Locke's wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) is eventually informed of his death. Unable to believe it or accept it, she attempts to contact the sole witness, Robertson (i.e. Locke masquerading as the Englishman) to find out about his death. "Robertson" (Locke) has now returned to Europe with the dead Robertson's appointment book.

As Locke works to keep Robertson's meetings across Europe, he learns that Robertson was a gunrunner for the rebels and unpopular with the government opposing them. A team has been sent with orders to assassinate him. Later he finds himself followed by a journalism colleague trying to track him down on behalf of his wife. Moreover, Robertson's business associates are unhappy about being stiffed on the sale of merchandise which has never arrived. He feels he is being watched and asks an architecture student (Maria Schneider, playing a character who is never named) to retrieve his belongings from a Barcelona hotel. She and Locke become close companions.

Attempting to flee the authorities, he has some close calls and run-ins with the local police. His girlfriend is loyal and also helpful because she speaks Spanish like a native.

The thugs eventually catch up with him at a hotel in a Spanish town (Osuna, province of Seville). The assassination takes place off screen in a widely noted, seven minute long take-tracking shot which begins in a hotel room, travels out into a dusty parking area and tracks back into the hotel room.


"The Passenger" has been considered remarkable for its camerawork (by Luciano Tovoli) and acting. While the movie has been critically praised by such movie critics as Peter Travers of "Rolling Stone" and Manohla Dargis of "The New York Times", it has also been criticized by Roger Ebert, Danny Peary and others for being slow-moving and pretentious. Ebert has since changed his stance on the film, and now considers it a perceptive look at identity, alienation, and mankind's desire to escape oneself.


The English language title of this movie was originally supposed to refer to Nicholson, as Maria Schneider's character, The Girl, was supposed to be doing all of the driving in the movie. However, when it came time to film, it was discovered that Schneider could not drive and Nicholson was forced to take over the role, substantially confusing the meaning of the title. However, if one takes the title as it was originally intended, Nicholson's character is a passenger in his own life, an observer and not the driving force. He asks superficial questions and does not appear to grasp the greater significance of the things he sees and observes.

Maria Schneider's character does not have a name in the film, and at the end she is credited as The Girl. There is strong evidence to suggest that she is the real Robertson's wife, Daisy. Evidence includes the fact that she shows up in all of the cities in which the daily calendar planner says that Robertson is supposed to meet Daisy, as well as the fact that when Nicholson checks into the hotel at the end the clerk tells him that Mrs. Robertson has already checked in and that he will not need Nicholson's passport as he already has Mrs. Robertson's - indicating that the name of "Robertson" appears on her passport with a photograph bearing the image of The Girl.

After the story of the blind man, Locke says to Maria Schneider, "You'd better go." She agrees and we see her toss some clothing into a case in the bathroom. However, instead of leaving, she sits down, hangs her head, and begins crying. In a film drenched in Christian imagery, she appears to have taken on the role of Locke's Judas and has betrayed him to the black and white thugs.

Though she says she'll go, she stands outside of the hotel waiting for the thugs to arrive. In the background we hear a lonely trumpet, evocative of a bull fight. This image is even more firmly established when we see the young boy in the red shirt throw his hands up in the air and drop his shoulders as if he is getting ready to do battle with the matador.

Just before the final long shot begins, however, we see Locke via an overhead angle lying in bed. His sunglasses are beside him, as though he were the blind man who has finally taken off his protection and exposed himself to the ugly, harsh, and dirty world.

As the camera begins its move toward the caged window, we see Locke's feet pointing upright as he is lying on his back. As the shot progresses, we see Locke's feet flip as he rolls over on to his stomach, literally assuming the exact face down position that he discovered Robertson's body on the bed in Africa. From this moment on, Locke is effectively dead. The film's tentative plotline has come full circle, just as Antonioni's camera will do over the next seven or so minutes.

As the camera proceeds toward the window, Maria Schneider re-enters the frame from screen right to interact with the white thug. As she does so, the camera makes a slight revelatory pan to the right to show the reflection of the black agent in the glass reaching for a gun. Many viewers do not notice this as their attention is focused on The Girl. The Girl's actions during this scene are believed to be further evidence of her complicity in Nicholson's character's apparent murder.

In the DVD commentary to the movie, Nicholson advises the viewer to pay particular attention to what seems to be the sound of an automobile's backfire. This occurs right as the Driver's Education car is driving in circles around the dusty parking lot. This car is, of course, merely a distraction. It is not backfire at all, and Nicholson acknowledges this. In actuality, it is the sound of the gunshot that supposedly kills Nicholson's character. A few seconds later we hear the sound of a door opening and closing as the black thug leaves Nicholson's room. At almost the same instant we see the white thug drive up in the white car to pick up his partner.

Penultimate shot

The shot was very difficult to accomplish and is widely studied by film students. Since the shot was continuous, it was not possible to adjust the lens aperture at the moment when the camera passed from the room to the square. Hence the footage had to be taken in the very late afternoon near dusk to minimize light differences between interior and exterior.

Atmospheric conditions caused more worries. The weather was windy and dusty but the crew needed stillness to ensure smooth camera movement. Antonioni put the camera in a sphere so the wind would catch it less but then this wouldn't fit through the window.

Moreover, the camera ran on a ceiling track in the hotel room and when it came outside the window, was picked up by a hook suspended from a giant crane nearly thirty metres high. A system of gyroscopes was fitted on the camera to steady it during the switch from a smooth track to the less stable but more mobile crane. The bars on the outside of the window were fitted on hinges and as the camera came up to them, they were swung away. The camera lens zoomed whilst its forward movement paused and the hook of the crane caught onto the camera, pulling it from the track. Antonioni directed the scene from a van by means of monitors and microphones, talking to assistants who communicated his instructions to the actors and operators.

In a DVD commentary decades later Nicholson said Antonioni built the entire hotel so as to get this famous shot. Although it is often referred to as the "final shot" of the film, the last shot comes next, showing a small police car driving away in the twilight some time later, holding on the hotel as the credits begin to roll.

References and notes

*cite book
last =Arrowsmith
first =William
authorlink =
coauthors =Ted Perry
title =Antonioni: The Poet of Images
publisher =Oxford University Press
date =1995
location =New York
pages =195
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0195092708

* cite book
last =Chatman
first =Seymour
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Antonioni: Or, the surface of the World
publisher =University of California Press
date =1985
location =Berkeley
pages =290
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0520053419

External links

* [ "The Passenger"'s Official Site at Sony Pictures]
*imdb title|id=0073580|title=The Passenger
* [ "The Passenger"] at Metacritic
* [ "The Passenger" Meets History, by Robert Koehler]
* [ Review of "The Passenger" in its 2005 re-release.]
* [,0,6342066.story?coll=cl-movies-util Review of "The Passenger" in its 2005 re-release. Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times, 11/04/2005]
* [ Review of "The Passenger" in its 2005 re-release. Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 10/28/2005]
*Roger Ebert's review of [ "The Passenger"]
*Turner, Jack (1999). [ Antonioni's The Passenger as Lacanian Text] . "Other Voices" 1 (3).

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