The Passenger (1975 film)

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The Passenger
The passenger 1975 poster.jpg
US theatrical poster
Directed byMichelangelo Antonioni
Produced byCarlo Ponti
Written byMark Peploe
Michelangelo Antonioni
Peter Wollen
StarringJack Nicholson
Maria Schneider
Steven Berkoff
Ian Hendry
Jenny Runacre
Music byIvan Vandor
CinematographyLuciano Tovoli
Edited byMichelangelo Antonioni
Franco Arcalli
Color processMetrocolor
Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
CIPI Cinematografica
Les Films Concordia
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 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 neo-noir art film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Written by Antonioni, Mark Peploe, and Peter Wollen, the film is about an 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 friendship, has died overnight at the hotel from a heart condition.

Locke decides to switch identities with Robertson, because he is tired of his work, his marriage and his life, and he sees this as an opportunity for a fresh start. 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. She feels guilt-ridden and torn when she is informed of her husband's death. She approaches Locke's friend, Martin (Ian Hendry), a producer at the BBC, in an attempt to get in touch with Robertson to try and learn more about her husband's last days. Meanwhile, "Robertson" (Locke) 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 very little – just a small document wallet with some figures and a few pages illustrating guns. He goes to a small church just as a wedding is finishing. Two men from the airport follow him and ask why he did not contact them in the airport. They ask for "the documents" and on showing them the papers from the locker they give him an envelope of money. The second half is to be paid in Barcelona.

Locke concludes that Robertson was gun-running for the same rebels whom, as a reporter, he had been trying to contact in the desert.

Locke flies to Barcelona where he spots his friend Martin on a street, as the latter tries to track Robertson down on behalf of Rachel. Locke backtracks and at this point bumps into an architecture student (Maria Schneider) while trying to hide nearby. He asks her to fetch his belongings from the hotel, so he won't be seen there by Martin who camped out to catch up with "Robertson". Martin overhears that she is collecting Locke's baggage, and requests she take him to meet "Robertson". She manages to evade him, and join Locke, who leaves Barcelona. They become lovers, and later, while trying to explain his rather odd behaviour, Locke confesses that he has stolen a dead man's identity.

Locke is flush with cash from the down payment on the arms he cannot deliver, yet he is drawn to keep the meetings listed in Robertson's note book. In the meantime, Rachel has received his left-behind belongings, which were returned from Africa. Having heard from Martin of his unsuccessful chase of the elusive "Robertson", Rachel is shocked as she opens Locke's passport, seeing Robertson's photo pasted inside. Having realised why "Robertson" was so elusive, Rachel now heads off to Spain to track down Locke, who is fleeing from the Spanish police, brought in by Rachel to track Robertson. The student girl is, however, still loyal to Locke and helps him to evade them, providing rational advice, but Locke sends her away, intending to meet later in Tangiers.

Reaching the Gloria hotel in the Spanish town of Osuna, province of Seville, Locke finds out that the girl has already booked them a double room, but then again he persuades her that she had better leave. Taking her time, she wanders around the dusty square outside. Shortly afterwards the rebel agents in pursuit of Robertson arrive at the hotel. There Locke's assassination takes place, mostly off-screen during one long take, ending with a single gun shot. The rebels leave the scene minutes before the police arrive with Rachel, to find Locke motionless in bed. There his wife says to the police officers that she "never knew" the dead man, while the student girl identifies him as Robertson.



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.[2]

  • 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.[3][4] 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.[5]

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. The former had a deal with MGM in producing a film together, but when that project was not pursued, Nicholson demanded compensation; the result being the acquisition of this film. This explains why, out of the three arranged productions between Carlo Ponti and Michelangelo Antonioni for MGM beginning with Blowup (1966) and followed up by Zabriskie Point (1970); this was the only one not passed on to Warner Bros., successor-of-interest to the pre-1986 MGM catalogue via their acquisition of Turner Entertainment, who was the initial purchasor of said catalogue. For years Nicholson kept The Passenger out of circulation until Sony Pictures Classics courted him with an offer to restore the film.


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. 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 wrote that it was a perceptive look at identity, alienation and the human desire to escape oneself.[6] It was placed 110th in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll 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".[8]

As of August 2020, the film holds a rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes from 74 reviews.[9]


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. ^ Chatman, pp. 183–185, 202
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Alex el Curioso (2009-08-04). "El Reportero Antoninon escena final". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Roger Ebert Reviews: The Passenger". Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  7. ^ Cite error: The named reference Empire was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Simon, John (1983). John Simon: Something to Declare Twelve Years Of Films From Abroad. Clarkson N. Potter Inc. p. 206.
  9. ^

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