The Passenger

The Passenger depicts a story about an American journalist who travels to Chad to record a documentary about the civil war in the country. In his bid to achieve a smooth process, he pretends to be a dead businessman in his stay in the country. Unknown to him however, the businessman he is impersonating is a notorious arms dealer who is well linked to the rebels in the country. The process in which he changes his identity to match that of the dead fellow American is surprising and points to a man who is tired of his job, life and marriage. The ease with which the plan to camouflage his identity goes through is facilitated by the fact that the hotel manager mistakes him for the dead friend.

Later, Locke returns to his country camouflaged as his friend while his things are returned to his wife. However, the plot ends with his wife seeing one of his passports with Robertson’s photo on it. The entire film depicts the identity crisis that faces a majority of the people that are alienated from the society. The theme of alienation is also widely covered in the film with both Robertson and Locke featuring extensively. In addition, violence is also depicted with relation to the civil war in Chad. The film is a product of a combination of all the three themes as they are expressed in the late modernity’s era. This essay analyzes the depiction of these themes in the plot to show their application in the modern era.

The theme of identity crisis is widely discussed in the film as is evidenced through the actions of Locke. The film leaves the viewer with infinite questions on the impossibility of changing ones identity. Ideally, every person would wish to jump and feature in the film as the same scenario faces the society in the world. It is obviously every modern person’s dream to pop on the bat suit and act like Gotham. The film gives the viewer a general feeling of wanting to step in the magic wardrobe of their houses and be moved into the land of ice queens and talking lions as the film depicts the locations covered. In fact, the topic of identity is vastly covered in the film to the point of every person identifying with the characters in the film. However, the failure of Locke to accomplish his identity switch is testament of the vanity of the idea (James, pp 49). The conception of the idea of switching ones identity is only but a futile misinformed decision. The film therefore provides every person with an opportunity, albeit a virtual one, of escaping into the story even for the shortest time.

Despite providing a virtual opportunity for people to identify with the characters in the film, David Locke finds another opportunity – the opportunity of running away with someone else’s identity. The star’s bid to run away from his life and wife is well captured in the film thus portraying the lives of a majority of the population in the world. In fact, every other person would be willing to jump into the shoes of the star because of the challenges that face their everyday life. Indeed, the theme is obviously deduced form the reality that occurs in most homes and families. The effectiveness of the film is obviously more than it was when it was first released in 1975. It seems that the director was making a prophecy about the happenings that perpetually continue to face majority of the world citizens. The film further explores vital confines within which society understands the aspects of identity. The modern world is faced with the complex and intricate challenge of comfortably living with their identities in a dynamic world where what one is or who they are is determined by what they do.

While located deep within the desert collecting footage of a famed documentary, Locke finds the task too hard and exhaustive for him to bear. The piece of information that he is tasked with collecting is to cover guerilla warfare in the country of Algeria. The task, however, seems to overburden the unusually tired journalist as he starts getting ideas tempting him to change his identity (Chatman, 1985). The opportunity for a swap of his identity is availed after failure of the journalist to meet with members of the rebel groups thereby leading him back to his hotel. The failure to finalize his story dealt a big blow to his hopes of achieving what he had for so long wanted in life.

On reaching his hotel room, he finds that his friend has died from a continuous and reoccurring natural condition. To further juice up the idea of an identity switch, the dead acquaintance of the journalist is of similar height and build making the plot even more viable. To this end, the journalist pursues the once mysterious motivations of leaving his child, wife and a blossoming career. All this is done as he attempts to escape into someone else’s life. The timing of the circumstance that enable the fruition of the journalist’s ideas is point to the misinformed idea that ordinary people harbor in making the decisions to switch their identities.

As the happenings revolving around his identity switch unfold, it is not clear what the motivation for the journalist is. Clearly, it is either the desire for freedom from the past or a search for a freedom to start over again. Whatever the case, the director is aware of the philosophical importance of leaving the question to the viewers to discern on their own. Moreover the methods behind the journalist’s momentary madness and emotional alienation are pinpointed with high precision. All this is done in a uniquely stylized vision devoid of score but very rich in dialogue. It is the use of this dialogue that is so effective in the dramatization of the various themes within the film. In addition, the decision to include the primary dramatic vision in the absence of musical accompaniment is a useful technique. The choice of this technique further accentuates the drama and isolates itself in the same fashion that Locke does.

The theme of alienation is also vastly covered in the film as is evidenced by the livelihoods of both Locke and Robertson in distant foreign countries. The nature of the theme application is effective in reducing the events to minimal occurrences for the viewers to see the moral weight of the alienation. To depict this alienation perfectly, the director utilizes the style of irony in the film. For instance, it turns out that Robertson is an arms dealer who provides the weapons to the very guerillas that the journalist was looking for initially (Michelangelo, 1994). The use of this irony is very effective in expressing the theme of alienation.

The film further utilizes the style of flashbacks to show features of the use of alienation and violence themes. In one instance, the film depicts a conversation between Robertson and Locke in which Locke is determined to switch his identity with that of the businessman. In his bid to change his identity, Locke expresses the subjective world of ideas, perception and images as he hopes for a more concrete life devoid of his past. The journalist then continues to go through Robertson’s appointment book thereby portraying Locke’s journey which combines privacy with anonymity. In this way, a level of isolation with intimacy is achieved through the lushly sceneries recorded in the film. Later, the film employs wide shots immensely as the journalist travels from Munich, Barcelona and Spain. In so doing, the director raise hopes in the viewers that freedom may actually await the journalist when he meets with Robertson’s contacts. This he does as he delivers sensitive documents acquired from Robertson’s secret hiding venue in an airplane locker.

Later, the general path of the film helps in finding out that escape from one’s identity is not an option. Immediately after switching his identity and running away from the country, Locke begins to face small aspects of the life that both he and Robertson left behind. In fact, all the circumstance that faces his life seems to be working against the success of the plot to switch his identity. In one instance, his TV producer starts to review past footage of his interviews thus prompting his wife to suspect that the journalist may well be alive. The unfolding at this point changes what initially seemed to be a simple linear narrative into a multipronged event that leads the viewer to discern the true message in the film. Indeed, all the main messages in the film are geared towards an intersection point where the story comes to fruition.

The motivation to run from his life is almost ruined thus spoiling a past that won’t seem to leave his life. In one scenario, Locke is entangled in Barcelona as he tries to escape Martin, a friend who is persuaded by his wife to go looking for Locke. To evade the prospect of meeting up, he enlists the services a young student who is very effective in her assignment. The film portrays the depths that the journalist is willing to go in a bid to cover up his past life and assume the new identity of a businessman (William, 1995). The interactions between them bring new aspects to the life that is portrayed in the film beforehand. The setting that plays out in the film as the two meet is one of romantic endeavors and it shows the lady giving out suggestive smiles to the journalist. Before long, Schneider asks Locke the reason why he is running and who he is running from thereby helping the viewer to ponder on the question that is on their minds.

Later on, we realize the impossibility of the escape first since the rebels realized that he had changed identity and evaded the deal plus Locke also has difficulty in impersonating Robertson. This is because he did not know Robertson well and we are shown that in one scene Locke admits to his friend of only being familiar with his character and not any other.

As the film unfolds, Locke transitions from being an observer as in journalism to actually being a participant as clearly shown in interesting scenes and conversations with government officials whom he interviewed. The officials acted as leaders who gave guidelines of aspects of identity and views in sociopolitical spheres. This is pin pointed when the journalist confesses to Schneider that he assumes the character of an arms dealer instead of becoming a novelist.

Despite the unavoidable, Locke knows better than everyone that’s why he stills insists on the possibility of attaining his desired freedom. He continues losing hope and being depressed due to the fact that he only has one option of exit. Moreover, this realization becomes more evident as his journey nears its end. Therefore Locke comes to the painful realization that although he thought of becoming someone else, he is still himself in the inside, only in the disguise of another person.

It is quite evident that the violence in Chad could be a reason for the journalist’s motivation to run away and start a new life altogether away from the gunfire. Despite the film not giving this as the sole reason for Locke’s escape, it is obvious that the fight in Chad could have been part of the reasons why he wanted to run from his life. In fact, the film portrays him as someone who is tired of the hustles of his career as he is captured lamenting many times. Ironically however, the same violence that the journalist seems to be running away from then follows him in his new identity (Michelangelo, 1994). This is well crafted in the fact that the person he was impersonating is an arms dealer who sells guns and ammunition to the rebels. In essence, therefore, it turns out that Locke is indirectly fueling the violence in the country by associating himself the rebels that he so loathed. Later, we find Locke running away from the deals that his friend, Robertson once made with the fighters.

At face value, it is most likely that the viewer may be fooled to think that the film is about the heroics of an escaping man, as most films do. However, the film is as thought provoking as it is entertaining thus providing the viewer with the much needed two fold analysis. Indeed, the director tries to answer the many questions that confront the modern society with regards to the ever increasing cases identity crisis. Moreover, the film is testament to the complexities of today’s political currents where a political kingpin could in future be facing a firing squad. The lessons in this assertion abound as people realize that the actions done today must be punished later in life when they have little or no power at their discretion. Most importantly, the film impacts on the viewers the lesson that they cannot in truth run away from their own identities. This is to say that one cannot escape from the social and public life and the expectations thereof.

The use of irony in crafting the message that the film aims to portray is well effective in making the viewer identify with the themes in the film. In fact, were it not for the use of the style, users of the film could not even get the clear message that the film intends. Essentially, Locke is not liberated from the life that he so much loathes and transformed into a new life of liberty (William, 1995). Rather, the journalist is trapped in the very escape that he orchestrates thus finding himself haunted by the choices he made. It turns out, therefore, that the deeds and impulses that he so longs to free him end up tying him down to the very level he was evading. The journalist, limited in his movements and associations must then live with the fact that he is a fugitive in someone else’s clothing. Furthermore, the actions of his future are in contrast with the aspects haunting him from his past life. It turns out that his wife is colluding with the police ion hunting him down and the illegal contacts that Robertson made while working illegally.

While the actual message of the film may be juggled between the many themes that surface throughout the unfolding, it is not debatable that Locke does not succeed in making his plans come to fruition. The director’s real statement on the issue of identity crisis is quite bold and cuts across the many and different social classes in the world. Accordingly, the existence of private identity is nothing but a fallacy as well as the personal life that people so normally insinuate. Rather, identity is a collective form where the persona is shared based on the beliefs and traits of the larger population.

It is perhaps in realization of this fact that Locke conforms to the expectations of the masses as the film comes to an eventual end. To symbolize this fact, the last few minutes of the film are shot in a hotel room that appears caged. This is only to mean that no matter what happens in one’s personal life or in privacy, they are still caged by the world that they live in. Essentially, every being is a part that connects with the other to form the earth which is the whole. While the whole cannot function without the parts, the parts can neither exist without there being the whole.

Despite the vision in the film being too dark for the mainstream viewers, it still stands out as a cultural example of the topics that confront the modern world. The styles used in the film are effective not only in giving the film a coherent flow but in passing the messages that conform to today’s world. The heavy handed monologues for instance depict the seriousness with which the film addresses issues affecting the society. In one instance, Locke is captured in a monologue about a blind man who gains sight only to experience that things are the same as they really are. Eventually, the blind man commits suicide as he cannot live with the fact that his new sight does not change the way things are. This can be interpreted to mean that the new form that Locke assumes serves not to give him an edge in life but is only pretense that he is better off now.

Ideally, the film captures all the themes with the necessary attention hard enough to bring sense in people and soft enough to make the viewers compassionate. The film takes it sweet period to deliver the requisite flow and beauty characteristic of a venerable gem among films that have so much fun. Essentially, the theme of violence is well covered in the civil war that is happening in Chad, the very reason that Locke travels to the country. In fact, it is also for this reason, albeit secretly, that Robertson finds himself in the country. Such is the magnitude of coverage of the themes to the effect that a large part of the film is influenced by the effects of violence. Moreover, the topics of alienation and identity crisis are also covered and their connectedness adequately queried. Ultimately, the film is effective in passing messages that could not have otherwise been passed in other platforms.


Works cited

Chatman, Seymour. Antonioni: Or, the surface of the World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

James S. Willaims. “The Rhythms of Life: An Appreciation of Michelangelo Antonioni, Extreme Aesthete of the Real.” Film Quarterly (Fall 2008, 62:1): 46-57.

Michelangelo Antonioni. The Architecture of Vision. ed. Carlo di Carlo, Giorgio Tinazzi. American Edition by Marga Cottino-Jones, Marsillo Publishers, 1994.

William Arrowsmith. Antonioni: The Poet of Images. ed. Introduction and notes by Ted Perry. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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