A meditation on identity and what makes us who we are, THE PASSENGER is a cinematic puzzle whose pieces are given to the viewer to assemble and then forces them to step back to see what it all means. I had to watch this movie twice, not only to get it, but to truly appreciate the layered tapestry Antonioni lays down. The film moves very methodically (slowly), but from the first few minutes onward I was engaged in the story as it unraveled and never found myself bored. Like any good mystery, THE PASSENGER feels like it’s constantly building towards its ending, and after the phenomenal 7-minute penultimate shot, you’ll be discussing this movie and its ambiguous profundity for long to come.
Grounded by the young Nicholson’s versatile performance, the movie balances its drama/romance/thriller roots surprisingly well, all the while creating a mysterious and involving mood. The world Locke finds himself in comes off as realistic despite its fantastic premise—a feat aided by the rich Afro-European locales and Schneider’s charismatic yet enigmatic beauty. There was also something a little eerie about the film that I just couldn’t place until the very end. Save for the last shot, there’s absolutely no music in the movie at all, and the resulting silence (even unknowingly) adds to the tension and psychologically-affecting vibe.
Commentary by Jack Nicholson: A surprising treat, as Nicholson rarely does commentaries. He’s kind of quiet during parts of the film, (you can tell it’s the first time he’s watched it in a long time), but he does seem very proud of it. What he does say is usually pretty fascinating, either revealing experiences from the set or insight into Antonioni’s outlook on filmmaking. As he claims, “It’s hard to separate the experiences of making this movie from the movie itself.” (BONUS: Nicholson explains how they got the final continuous shot, which is ridiculously cool.)
Commentary by journalist Aurora Irvine and screenwriter Mark Peploe: Peploe knew Antonioni pretty well throughout his career, but Irvine “recently saw the film for the first time” and barely says two words during the entire commentary. The result is pretty boring, especially compared to Nicholson’s track.
Theatrical Trailer: A nice little preview that tells you enough about the movie without giving anything away. (The voiceover guy in the 70s was much better than the one now.)
Nicholson’s commentary is great, but not enough to save this disc from disappointment. If any movie deserved the Criterion treatment, it’s this one. With as much stuff going on, both symbolically and technically, there’s a lot that potential bonus features could explore.