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The Passenger (film): Wikis


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The Passenger
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Written by Mark Peploe,
Michelangelo Antonioni,
Peter Wollen
Starring Jack Nicholson,
Maria Schneider,
Steven Berkoff,
Ian Hendry
Jenny Runacre
Music by Ivan Vandor
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) July 4, 1975
Running time 119 Min
126 Min
Extended Cut
Language English

The Passenger (Italian: 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.[1]



David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a television journalist looking for rebels to interview in the African Sahara desert but he keeps failing and at last his Land Rover gets hopelessly stuck on a sand dune. After a long walk through the desert back to his hotel a thoroughly glum Locke finds that an Englishman by the name of Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), who has also been staying there and with whom he had struck up a friendship, is dead. Tired of his work, his marriage and his life, Locke switches identities with Robertson, carefully cutting and swapping the photographs in their passports. As Robertson, he reports his own death and since the hotel manager has already mistaken him for Robertson, the plan goes off without a hitch.

In London, Locke's wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) has been having an affair with someone else but is guilt-ridden and torn by the news of her husband's death and tries to get in touch with Robertson, to learn more about what happened. Meanwhile "Robertson" (Locke) flies to Europe with the dead man's appointment book.

Otherwise aimless, Locke swiftly learns Robertson was a gunrunner for the rebels and not liked by the government they are fighting to overthrow. Meanwhile a friend of Locke's from the BBC tries to track Robertson down on behalf of Rachel. Locke spots him on the street in Barcelona and asks an architecture student (Maria Schneider as the Girl) to fetch his belongings so he won't be seen at his hotel. She and Locke drive off from Barcelona and become close.

Flush with cash from a down payment on arms he cannot deliver Locke nevertheless is drawn to keep the meetings listed in Robertson's book. Locke begins skirting then fleeing from the Spanish police, whom Rachel has brought in on the search for Robertson, but the Girl is loyal and helpful.

An ever more wary and world-weary Locke sends the Girl away on a bus, saying he'll meet her in Tangiers later. Locke checks into the Hotel de la Gloria in Osuna, Seville to keep another meeting as Robertson and is told his wife is staying in the room next to his own. In it, he finds the Girl. By now Locke seems to have lost all hope and faith in life. His assassination in the late afternoon by agents of an African government takes place off screen in a widely noted, seven minute long take-tracking shot which begins in his hotel room, pulls out into a dusty, run-down square and tracks back into the hotel room.[2]

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 as the camera left the room and went into the square. Hence the footage had to be taken in the very late afternoon near dusk, when the brightness outside was closer to that in the room.

Also, the square was windy and the crew needed stillness to ensure smooth camera movement. Antonioni put the camera in a sphere so the wind might catch it less, but this wouldn't fit through the window.

The camera ran on a ceiling track in the hotel room and when it came outside the window, was meant to be 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 this smooth indoor track to the crane outside. Meanwhile the bars on the window had been given hinges. When the camera reached the window and the bars were no longer in the field of view they were swung away to either side. At this time the camera's forward movement had to stop for a few seconds as the crane's hook grabbed onto it and took over from the track. To hide this, the lens was slowly and smoothly zoomed until the crane could pull the camera forward again.[3] 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 widely noted shot. Although it is often referred to as the "final shot" of the film, there is one more, which shows a small driving school car pulling away in the twilight some time later, holding on the hotel as the credits begin to roll.


Roof of La Pedrera in Barcelona, as seen in 2005. The look of the roof was quite different in 1975, during filming of "The Passenger." This is where Locke (Nicholson) asks the Girl to get his things from the hotel so as not to be seen by his friend from the BBC.

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.

References and notes

  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Passenger". Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  2. ^ Chatman, pp. 183-185, 202
  3. ^ Only a year later (1976) the wholly portable Steadicam, which uses a counterweight system rather than gyroscopes, would become available for this kind of shot, greatly simplifying such setups.

External links



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