The Passenger (1975 film)

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The Passenger
The passenger 1975 poster.jpg
US theatrical release poster
Directed byMichelangelo Antonioni
Written byMark Peploe
Michelangelo Antonioni
Peter Wollen
Produced byCarlo Ponti
StarringJack Nicholson
Maria Schneider
Steven Berkoff
Ian Hendry
Jenny Runacre
CinematographyLuciano Tovoli
Edited byMichelangelo Antonioni
Franco Arcalli
Music byIvan Vandor
Color processMetrocolor
Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
CIPI Cinematografica
Les Films Concordia
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • 28 February 1975 (1975-02-28) (Italy)
  • 9 April 1975 (1975-04-09) (US)
Running time
126 minutes

The Passenger (Italian: Professione: reporter) is a 1975 drama art film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Written by Antonioni, Mark Peploe, and Peter Wollen, the film is about a disillusioned Anglo-American journalist, David Locke (Jack Nicholson), who assumes the identity of a dead businessman while working on a documentary in Chad, unaware that he is impersonating an arms dealer with connections to the rebels in the current civil war. Co-starring Maria Schneider, The Passenger was the final film in Antonioni's three-picture deal with producer Carlo Ponti and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, after Blowup and Zabriskie Point, and competed for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.[1]


David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a television journalist making a documentary film about post-colonial Africa. In order to finish the film, he is in the Sahara in northern Chad seeking to meet with and interview rebel fighters who are involved in the Chadian Civil War. Struggling to find rebels to interview, he is further frustrated when his Land Rover gets stuck on a sand dune. After a long walk through the desert back to his hotel, a thoroughly dispirited Locke discovers that an Englishman (Robertson), who has also been staying in the same hotel, and with whom he had struck up a casual friendship, has died overnight in his room from a heart condition.

Locke decides to switch identities with Robertson. Posing as Robertson, Locke reports his own death at the front desk, where the hotel manager mistakes Locke for Robertson, and the plan goes off without a hitch.

In London, Locke's wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre) has been having an affair with a man named Stephen (Steven Berkhoff). Rachel feels guilt-ridden and torn when she is informed of her husband's death, which we see reported in a newspaper obituary. She approaches Locke's friend, Martin (Ian Hendry), a television producer, in an attempt to get in touch with Robertson to try and learn more about her husband's last days. Meanwhile, Locke, posing as Robertson, has flown to Munich with the dead man's belongings, including his appointment book, which directs him to a locker in the airport. It contains a document wallet with a price-list and several photocopied pages illustrating armaments. After leaving the airport, and apparently acting on a whim, Locke follows a white horse and carriage to a wedding in a baroque chapel, where he waits at the back of the congregation. Once the wedding has finished and the guests have gone, two men who were observing Locke at the airport enter and ask why he did not contact them at the airport. They ask for "the documents." After Locke hands them the papers from the locker, they give him an envelope of money and tell him that the second half is to be paid in Barcelona. It becomes apparent that Robertson was gun-running for the same rebels whom Locke had been trying to contact in the Sahara.

Prompted by Robertson's diary entries, Locke flies to Barcelona. There he spots his colleague and friend the TV producer Martin, who tries to track Robertson down on behalf of Rachel. Locke encounters an architecture student (Maria Schneider), credited only as The Girl, while trying to hide in a Gaudi building, La Pedrera. He asks her to fetch his belongings from the hotel so that he won't be seen there by Martin, who is casing the lobby. Martin overhears that she is collecting the baggage, and he confronts her outside, requesting that she take him to meet Robertson. She suggests that he follow her in a taxi, but by luck she manages to lose him. She and Locke leave Barcelona and become lovers on the run.

Flush with cash from the down payment on the arms he cannot deliver, Locke is nevertheless drawn to keep a meeting scheduled in Robertson's diary. His appointed contact, however, does not show up. Meanwhile, the men arranging the arms deal are abducted, interrogated and beaten by hitmen operating for the Chadian government.

Rachel receives Locke's belongings, returned from Africa. Having heard from Martin of his unsuccessful chase of the elusive Robertson, Rachel is shocked as she opens Locke's passport to Robertson's photo pasted inside. She heads to Spain to find Locke. The hitmen trail her. Rachel co-opts the Spanish police in her pursuit, but Locke and The Girl continue to flee. Locke eventually sends her away, instructing her to meet him later in Tangiers, after he follows her advice to keep an appointment in the book, that is, to assume that part of Robertson’s identity that believed in a cause. She departs by bus for Almería.

Reaching the Hotel de la Gloria in the Spanish town of Osuna, Locke finds out that The Girl has returned and booked a double room, posing as Mrs. Robertson. He again tries to persuade her to leave. She exits the hotel and dawdles around the dusty square outside. The Chadian agents arrive at the hotel, enter, and depart just before the police arrive with Rachel Locke. The Girl joins them, and the group enter Locke's room, where they discover that he is dead. When asked by the police whether they recognized him, Rachel says that she never knew him, and the Girl says, "Yes."



Principal photography took place in the Illizi Province of Algeria (to depict Chad), London, Munich, Barcelona and locations across south-eastern Spain throughout mid-to-late 1973.[2]

In a long take early in the film, Locke (Nicholson) is exchanging passport photos in his hotel room, with a tape recording playing an earlier conversation between Locke and Robertson, now dead. The camera pans, without a cut, to hold on Robertson's now live appearance on the balcony, when Locke appears beside him and the two of them continue talking, i.e. an in-camera in-single-shot flashback.

The film's penultimate shot is a seven-minute long take tracking shot which begins in Locke's hotel room, looking out onto a dusty, run-down square, pushes out through the bars of the hotel window into the square, rotates 180 degrees, and finally tracks back to a close exterior view of the room's interior.[3]

  • The location of the hotel is stated to be Osuna in the film. However, the bullring at the edge of the square is recognisably that of the one in the Spanish town of Vera, in the province of Almería.[4][5] In a DVD commentary, decades later, Nicholson said Antonioni built the entire hotel so as to get this shot.
  • 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, in order to minimise the lighting contrast between the brightness outside and that in the room.
  • The square was windy and the crew needed stillness to ensure smooth camera movement. Antonioni tried putting the camera in a sphere so the wind might catch it less, but this would not fit through the window. In the scene, it appears that the bars may have been adjusted to be removed as the camera approached them.[citation needed]
  • 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 30 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 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.[Note 1] Then the cameraman walked the camera in a circle around the square, giving the crew time to shut the window bars before the camera returned to look through the window from the outside this time. 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.[6]

Although this is often referred to as the "final shot" of the film, there is one more. The last passage shows a small driving school car pulling away in the twilight, and the camera holds on the hotel as the film's credits begin to roll.

Some years after the production ended, Nicholson had a dispute with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on an unrelated matter. Nicholson had a deal with MGM for developing and starring in another film, but when MGM abandoned that project, Nicholson demanded compensation; the result being the acquisition of this film. This explains why, out of the three productions by Carlo Ponti and Michelangelo Antonioni under contract for MGM beginning with Blowup (1966) and followed up by Zabriskie Point (1970), ownership of The Passenger was not eventually passed on to Warner Bros., Which acquired the pre-1986 MGM film library via their purchase of Turner Entertainment, the initial purchaser of that library. For years Nicholson kept The Passenger out of circulation until Sony Pictures Classics approached him with an offer to restore and reissue the film.

Two books prominently placed on set in the movie are 'The Soul of the Ape', a pioneering work of ethology by Eugene Marais and 'De Lumumba aux colonels' (1966) by Anicet Kashamura & Patrice Lumumba.


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. 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 widely praised for its camerawork (by Luciano Tovoli) and its acting, particularly Nicholson's quiet and reflective performance.[7] It competed for the Palme d'Or award at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.[1] The film was praised by such critics as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times. Roger Ebert gave the film a negative review in 1975, but revisiting it in 2005, he was much more positive, writing that it was a perceptive look at identity, alienation and the human desire to escape oneself.[8] It was placed 110th in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll,[citation needed] and was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[7]

John Simon held a differing opinion of The Passenger. He wrote- "Emptiness is everywhere: in landscapes and townscapes, churches and hotel rooms, and most of all in the script. Never was dialogue more pretentiously vacuous, plot more rudimentary yet preposterous, action more haphazard and spasmodic, characterization more tenuous and uninvolving, filmmaking more devoid of all but postures and pretensions".[9]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 88% of 74 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The website's consensus reads, "Antonioni's classic, a tale of lonely, estranged characters on a journey though the mysterious landscapes of identity, shimmers with beauty and uncertainty."[10]


Explanatory notes
  1. ^ Only a year later (1976) the wholly portable Steadicam, which uses a counterweight system rather than gyroscopes, became available for this kind of shot, greatly simplifying such setups.
  1. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: The Passenger". Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  2. ^ Taylor, John Russell. ""American audiences' greater education seems to have evaporated": Jack Nicholson interviewed in 1974". BFI. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  3. ^ Chatman, pp. 183–185, 202
  4. ^ David Saul Rosenfeld (2007). "Note 25". Michelangelo Antionioni's L'eclisse. A broken piece of wood, a matchbook, a woman, a man. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  5. ^ Alex el Curioso (2009-08-04). "El Reportero Antoninon escena final". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  6. ^ Interview with Antonioni in L'ultima sequenza di Professione: Reporter (1974) directed by André S. Labarthe, available with English subtitles as The Last Sequence of The Passenger.
  7. ^ a b "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire.
  8. ^ "Roger Ebert Reviews: The Passenger". Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  9. ^ Simon, John (1983). John Simon: Something to Declare Twelve Years Of Films From Abroad. Clarkson N. Potter Inc. p. 206.
  10. ^ "The Passenger". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 29, 2021. Edit this at Wikidata

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