ANALYSIS OF MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI's THE PASSENGER - PART FOUR

Go to Table of Contents of the analysis. Antonioni's films are rife with themes, peculiarities and incongruities which largely go unnoticed due his deft care in handling them and the abundant and rich audio and visual textures in which he immerses us, but they are also responsible for the sense of mystery that defies a traditional expectation of resolutions, infusing Antonioni's films with enigmatic mythic purpose. And myth is never hampered by logic. My analyses explore patterns of use of these elements with the purpose of nudging to the fore secondary plot structures and hints at meaning that may stand in opposition to the seeming lay of the land.


WHAT DO YOU SEE

376 LS of a road leading from the edge of a town, a man with goats crossing it. He has his head covered with his shirt, but it reminds of the turbans of Africa.

And the goats, too, remind of the scene outside Robertson's window out which David looked upon finding him dead, and his calendar.

A black car pulls up and the camera pans left following it to show this is the HOTEL de LA GLORIA, so it must be the 11th. We are in Osuna, where the meeting with Daisy is to take place. David exits the taxi which is marked with a blue diagonal stripe across the front passenger door. Having no car, he has arrived as a passenger. He has no luggage any longer. So he no longer has Robertson's papers. No longer has Robertson's gun. He may not even have Robertson's calendar any longer. How is he to continue pursuing Robertson's career we have no idea, but he is here because of the date in the calendar and because he had promised The Girl he would keep this appointment as Robertson believed in what he was doing and he needs belief in something. The taxi turns and leaves as David steps toward the hotel.

Daisy means "eye of the sun". O-sun-a? This was not filmed in Osuna but in Vera, Spain. But for Antonioni it had to be Osuna, at least in name. If I pay attention now to the meaning of "daisy" it is because of the first night David spent with The Girl, she bringing it to his attention that Daisy was his favorite girl in his appointment book, to which David replied he believed Daisy was a man, and the fact that Antonioni chose then to cut to the witch doctor who had sitting near him, in the desert, a makeshift vase filled with pink daisies. He was the one who'd turned David's camera on him in quest of a truthful conversation, which sent David reeling back, he then the one being "shot". Just as David here will be presumably shot.

377 LS from the interior of David entering the hotel.

Antonioni lines up David's entering so he is framed in the doorway of the bullfighting ring next door, over his head not just an arch but Omega Ω.

We don't know yet it's a bullfighting ring. Antonioni chooses first to present it in this manner, only as "last", Omega. The great (mega) O.

378 MS David turning toward the desk..

Impatiently waiting, he knocks on it and looks at postcards in a carousel. The proprietor enters from the hall, followed by his wife who is knitting.

379 MCU The proprietor steps behind the desk.

We are given a better view of the postcards in the carousel. These aren't just any postcards. Some of them are hopeful of breaking out of the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional world. In a top one, the skirt of a woman with a toreador bursts out of the flat plane of paper. We see a postcard of a free bird. Of roses. Aren't roses thrown into the bullfighting ring? We don't know yet that is a bullfighting ring across the way but here is the offering of roses.

We see a number of keys in the case on the wall and wonder how many rooms could this hotel have? It looked so small from the outside, as if only two rooms were possible, yet one of the keys reads 22, and another reads 30.

DAVID (given a pen and paper to write his information): Thank you.

PROPRIETOR (taking the paper back when he finishes): Is there any luggage?

DAVID: No, no baggage.

PROPRIETOR: Thank you, Mr. Robertson. Mrs. Robertson has arrived a few hours ago.

380 MS of David from behind the proprietor.

DAVID: Mrs. Robertson?

PROPRIETOR: Yes. We don't need your passport. One is enough.


If one is watching for the first time, one will wonder if Daisy, the favorite, is Mrs. Robertson? Daisy, who Achebe had asked Robertson to say hello to for him, as if he was familiar with Daisy before knowing Robertson. Achebe had said he'd heard alot about Robertson, that he believed in their fight. Perhaps it was Daisy who had told him this.

381 MCU of the proprietor.

PROPRIETOR: We have put you in adjoining rooms for a night.

Calendars beg for attention in this film because of the key role Robertson's has played. This one behind the proprietor caught my eye. It's a peculiar image for a calendar. The scene depicted seems to be African. But it seems incomplete. We see a boy's head on the ground. Perhaps a lower leg is above his head, rattles about its ankle, a white band just under the knee. Another person's leg? A dancer? That just the boy's head is shown takes us back to Africa and David's questioning, "Will they have arms", while we see via intentional pareidolia the profiles of men in these rocks of a sight renowned for its caves filled with ancient rock art.

The bust of the boy may hearken back to the numerous busts in Blowup. The foreleg certainly figured prominently in Blowup, the painter telling Thomas that at first his paintings were a mess, he didn't understand them, but afterward he would find something to hang onto, saying of one of the figures, "like that leg". Which became a motif throughout the film and reappears here. Something to hang onto. "Like that leg."

We may also see something else above the leg, in the hut, to the left of what seems a woman standing to the center with other people to her right.

382 Shot of the entry. David crosses to go to his room.

In the foreground, in a courtyard at a table, the wife of the proprietor sits working away at her knitting.

383 Exterior shot of the hotel, the side presented the road.

We see through a window the hallway down which David walks to his room. He tries the door, which is unlocked, and enters. The proprietor sticks his head out a smaller window next to the larger one showing the hall. He looks toward the bullfighting ring which we haven't yet seen. We hear the door to David's room shut. The proprietor closes the forest green blind.

384 MS from the interior of Mrs. Robertson's room, David opening the adjoining door from his room into it. The double doors are not yellow but are much like the doors to David's room in the hotel in Africa.

David doesn't look especially hesitant when he opens the door. He didn't knock. He doesn't look surprised.

Is The Girl, seen first in reflection, her doppleganger image, Mrs. Robertson? Antonioni has at least set it up for us to see her as perhaps being Mrs. Robertson. Only one passport was required, which means she would have the passport of Mrs. Robertson.

The Girl, at her open window, is viewed reflected in the mirror of a wardrobe. The day before, David had finally told her that he had seen her once before, in London, and had asked her if she believed in coincidences. Today she wears clothing from their first two meetings. She wears the green shirt from London, what she had worn at the Brunswick. She wears the flowered skirt from Barcelona. It's as if she is acknowledging, with the green shirt, I know you saw me before, as this is the shirt I was wearing.

She would have heard him arrive. She had probably seen him arrive. She doesn't rush to meet him. She stands looking out the window instead, perhaps waiting to see what David will have to say as to Mrs. Robertson having arrived first, and that because of this he didn't need to present his passport.

As for London, we are returned to the question as to why David was ever at Brunswick Center in the first place. Antonioni has only ever allowed us to see 4 pages of Robertson's appointment book. We know Robertson was going to go to London, for the first time in several years, before heading to Munich. It's possible that what Antonioni hasn't shown us is that David was at Brunswick Center as it was a destination in Robertson's appointment book. It's only a guess.

The question is, has David known all along who she was? An important piece of conversation to consider is Rachel's flashback to when she visited him and watching his interview of the president. She scolded him for his approach (she had also told Martin that David accepted too much) and David had told her he knew the man was lying but he didn't call him on it as those were the rules.

Rachel: You involve yourself in real situations, but you've no real dialogue. Why didn't you tell that man he's a...

David: A liar?

Rachel: Yes.

David: I know. But those are the rules.

One could imagine it's likely that David knew all along The Girl was in some way associated with Robertson. Not necessarily how, but that he knew, and this knowledge has guided his conversations with her. Even now, they will never address the situation directly.

DAVID: What can you see?

MRS. ROBERTSON: A little boy and an old woman. They are having an argument about which way to go.


David, the supposedly observant reporter, asks The Girl what she sees, rather than looking himself. If she is Mrs. Robertson, after all, she's known more than he did all along.

385 MS of The Girl entering David's room, he following.

DAVID (affectionately touching her hair): You shouldn't have come. (Lying on the bed.)

We hear a woman calling outside. The Girl goes to the window.

386 MCU from behind of The Girl of the window, which is barred. These are the first barred windows of the trip, reminding of the caged birds back in Barcelona. When David had first seen The Girl in Barcelona a caged bird had been hanging nearby.

DAVID: What can you see now?

MRS. ROBERTSON: A man scratching his shoulder. A kid throwing stones. And dust. It's very dusty here.


She goes to stand beside the bed and we see a light cord, like those in Africa, leading not to a light fixture but a painting on the wall. The first night she and David had spent together, it was she who had remarked, noting that Daisy seemed to be his favorite and that they had a meeting in Osuna at the Gloria, that it was "very picturesque, perhaps". Not "perhaps very picturesque", but "very picturesque, perhaps". Which has more to do with this picture hanging from the wall than anything else.

She kneels down beside the bed.

MRS. ROBERTSON: Isn't it funny how things happen? (She runs her finger down the profile of his face.) All the shapes we make. Wouldn't it be terrible to be blind? (She puts her hands over his eyes, closing them.)

She alludes to what David had said the day beforehand about how he never used to notice coincidences, but he now saw them everywhere.

DAVID: I know a man who was blind.

387 CU of David.

DAVID: When he was nearly 40 years old he had an operation and regained his sight.

MRS. ROBERTSON (lying next to him): What was it like?

DAVID: At first he was elated. Really high. Faces. Colors. Landscapes. But then everything began to change. The world was much poorer than he imagined. No one had ever told him how much dirt there was. How much ugliness. He noticed ugliness everywhere. When he was blind, he used to cross the street alone, with a stick. After he regained his sight, he became afraid. He began to live in darkness. He never left his room. After three years he killed himself.


The Girl hugs David.

She is stirred, emotionally. David had said "I know a man who was blind." Not, "I knew a man who was blind." He is speaking about his own situation

388 The camera pans up, following the light cord to the painting. A sound begins as soon as the camera begins travelling up the cord. An electronic ohm sound, which we should understand as the universal OM. It finishes when the camera focuses in on the painting, to which the cord leads, as if in this frame and the landscape within is illumination, and we hear then a bell ring twice.

We may be reminded of the hotel where The Girl and David spent their first night together.

I'm going to go into this one a lot more fully because Antonioni carries it through Blowup and Zabriskie Point into The Passenger in such a way where it has a sensible coherence.

In Blowup, when Thomas is greeted by the revellers at the beginning of the film and digs in the back-seat for some money to give them, we see a couple of important things. We see a headline "Sniper in Tower" in the newspaper, and on the wall we see some graffiti. Antonioni, by the way, is carrying over the idea of the sniper in the tower from Blowup (in my analysis on Blowup I go into how this relates to the murder of the man and ultimately to Thomas) to The Passenger when he places David and The Girl in this high window that connects with this later painting seen at Hotel de la Gloria. Recollect that it was at the hotel with the high window that David and The Girl discussed his upcoming appointment at the Hotel de la Gloria and The Girl said it would be "picturesque". That is referring to the painting above the bed.

The graffiti has a first letter blocked out and we see either OHM or OMM.

Later, after visiting the park, Thomas purchases a propeller that he says he can't "live without". We saw as it was carried out that a propeller forms an 8 shape and I connected that back to another headline we saw in the above sequence when Thomas searches for the newspapers for money to give the revellers. That headline read AIT with a question mark above it. Though one could take it a referring to an island, it is pronounced like 8. Not only did the propeller's figure form an 8, it cost 8 pounds. One can see in the 8 the symbol for infinity ω but in which form we can observe a sense of unending cycles.

Again, if we return to the section in which we saw the headlines as Thomas gave money to the revellers, on a wall opposite was graffiti which read OHM or OMM, the first letter of which was hidden. For ohm, in physics, the Greek upper-case omega character is used as a symbol, Ω.

Thinking of the propeller and ait in these terms is appropriate, for when Thomas meets with his agent, he says he has a great image for his book that will go "last". An image from the park. Last, as in omega and the sign for infinity. The propeller, which he found in the antique store after visiting the park, is the film's physical symbol for this.

Thomas lived at the address number 39.

It was through that door that the propeller was later developed.

Later, Thomas "disappears" into the alley that leads to the black and white nightclub (in which nearly everyone stands still, as though frozen), and then reappears on the sidewalk in front of it. We see the address 309. One will recollect that Thomas' house number is 39. When he has slipped between the cracks into the Ricky Tick club, he has entered, as it were, "0", nothing, a place located in his own home at the 39 address (and we have seen how this plays out at his home, how the space between black and white is used significantly in connection with the photograph of the murdered man). We've also here the OM which was introduced with the revellers when Thomas made his donation.

The sanskirt for OM is:

Antonioni is playing with numbers as shapes here. Playing with the sanskrit as shape. The 309 address out of which Thomas appears can be seen as Antonioni combining the OM with the 39.

Antonioni clarifies the OM in Zabriskie Point. Daria calls Lee from an impossible place to which she's gone in the desert. I elaborate in my analysis how it is an impossible destination and makes the given timeline of the film impossible. She says she's been sent there by a friend as it's a good place for meditating. First we see a cord when she calls Lee (Antonioni typically uses the cord in the sense of the clue of thread for a maze, which I will show at the end of this section). Then we see the place itself.

We have reversed in the window the OM present as OOM, connected with meditation.

Antonioni is also using OM here but aurally. He already, back at the African hotel, drew our attention several times to electric cords, such as the one on which the 5 beetles sat frozen, and the one leading to the lamp above the death bed of David Robertson. Here, the cord leads up to the painting, accompanied by the electric OM sound and then there is the ringing of the bed. In Hinduism, I read the sound of the bell is thought of as producing the OM sound.

I read that Antonioni had a "long fascination with India" and even did a movie short, in 1977, on the Hindu festival Kumbha Mela.

389 MCU David and The Girl still hugging.

DAVID: What the fuck are you doing here with me?

She only shrugs her shoulders.

This is the question that David had asked her, upon waking under the orange tree, as she stood over him. She had answered, "Which me?" Today she does not.

DAVID: You better go.

MRS. ROBERTSON: Okay.


She rises. There's no argument this time. No talk of Melina and boats to Tangiers and meeting there. The relationship is finished. The journey is over.

390 MS The Girl at her door in her room. She takes clothing she had put on a peg and puts it in her bag. She had thought she might be staying else she wouldn't have hung up clothing. She sits on a chair and cries.

391 MS David opening the windows of his room.


We see outside through the window. The camera pans up to a palm tree then follows the shadows of the bars on the casement back to the window pane and rests on David's back, he returning to his bed, lighting a cigarette. He lies down. We hear a clanking outside.

392 MLS of David's window and the scene outside.

We see from David's chest down to his feet, he lying on his bed. He puts out the cigarette and rolls partly over to nap. We see a man seated next to the bullring. A black and white dog. Hear a train whistle. A man in a blue shirt carries something out of the bull ring and leans it up against the exterior wall. The camera has begun its zoom/track in to the window.

A driver's education car pulls into the parking lot, perhaps teaching someone how not to be just a passenger or how to be the right kind of passenger. It disappears to the left.

The man returns inside the bull ring and closes the door. The Girl is outside, having entered the scene framed by the window from the right. She stands before circles in the earth. She looks briefly back at David's window. We hear the trumpet from the bull ring. The driver's education car has circled round and exits screen right. A little boy in a red shirt runs into the ring, the trumpet stops, and the boy tosses a stone at the old man.

The boy runs off to the right, a white car having pulled up. Two men exit. It is the black man and the white man who had kidnaped Achebe. A bell rings three times. As the black man starts toward the hotel's entrance, a woman in a short skirt, red top and red shoes runs past, briefly attracting his notice. Another bell rings six times. As the black man exits the window frame, the white man returns to the car and pulls it out of sight. We hear a door close. After a second, the reflection of the black man enters the left window, as the girl enters the scene outside from screen left, looking toward the window. We hear the car door close. The white man steps over to look in David's window.

Here it is augmented so you can better see the individual in the window.

This reflection was set up back at the African hotel when Robertson told Locke there were men who lived in the desert.

Below is a detail of the white mask-like face that we observe throughout the conversation.

The circles we see in the parking lot outside take us back to the u-turns in the Sahara where David went searching for the men who lived in the desert...

...and most recently, the circles before the closed door in the town David visited the day beforehand when hoping to get the car fixed.

The white man turns and goes to the girl. He raises his arms, says something, touches her shoulder guiding her away. She shrugs his hand off. As the camera continues its zoom in on the window we see the black man has his hand stuck inside the breast of his jacket as if reaching for something. But he doesn't pull anything out. He just stands there. Then as soon as the camera has zoomed completely in on the window and we no longer see any window pane at all, no reflection, we hear a vehicle start and drive off and along with this something else. A muffled gun shot? The white man who is still with the girl turns and looks to the hotel.

The man exits screen left. The trumpet begins playing again within the bull ring. It had been silent. The Girl crosses over to speak with the old man. The white car by the white man reappearing and crossing the parking lot, we hear a door. The white car out of sight, we hear its car door on the passenger side.We see a part of it as it drives past the bull ring and away. The girl walks back toward the hotel. The trumpet stops. The girl appears to be listening for something. Is that the trumpet? No, we hear a siren.

The camera is now on the other side of the window. No bars. The siren's pitch for a moment is that of the trumpet's, which has stopped.

A police car pulls up before the motel and the camera pans left to where it parks, children running up to the car and being shooed away by the two police officers who exit. The camera tracks right again as an officer speaks briefly to the girl then goes to the driver's ed car and tells it vamos. The camera keeps tracking right away now from the bull ring, showing the countryside beyond the road as the girl runs forward and a police car enters carrying the two officers, Rachel and the detective. They get out of the car. A horse pulling a wagon carrying straw passes on the road.

As the police and Rachel approach the hotel, The Girl races ahead of them. She enters and the proprietor meets the police on the steps. They ask if Mr. Robertson is there and he says yes. The camera, now facing the entry, does not pursue them inside. Instead, it glides to the right to show, through a window, The Girl trying to enter David's room via the door that adjoins their rooms, but it is locked. She is met by the detective at her door and the camera continues gliding right, coming to rest on David's window and peering in through the bars. The door opens. The proprietor enters, the detective, Rachel and The Girl.

DETECTIVE: Is this David Robertson?

Rachel kneels beside the bed.

DETECTIVE: Do you recognize him?

RACHEL: I never knew him.


Rachel stands and backs away.

DETECTIVE (to The Girl): Do you recognize him?

MRS. ROBERTSON: Yes.

She says, yes, today, whereas at the Gaudi Palace she had told David she didn't recognize him.

393 Evening, the driver's education car.

Whatever has happened in the meanwhile, Antonioni returns to the driver's education car in the evening, after sunset. The camera follows it out to the road, from about the POV of the bullfighting ring. The old man and his dog are walking away. The proprietor and his wife stand on the steps talking. As the old man walks out of sight, the proprietor rounds the building to also begin walking down the road. His wife comes out and sits on the steps to knit, dropping her ball of yarn on the step below.

We need to keep in mind that we are across from a bullfighting ring, that this bullfighting ring is essential to what has just happened, and that the film began with David in a hotel in which we had in the lobby a mural of men appearing to hunt bulls. Going even further back then that, in shot 5 David had entered the shop of a man who did sewing for a living, above whose head a blue strand of yarn (it seemed) was hanging down, which brushed against him as he stood and made his way outside with David's entrance. That thread, the clue of the mythic labyrinth, can be found running throughout the film in various ways, but most notably in the threads of the electrical cords and finally, here, with the woman knitting at the Gloria.


Go to Table of Contents for the Analysis of The Passenger
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