The Passenger (1975 film)

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The Passenger
The passenger 1975 poster.jpg
US theatrical poster
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Written by Mark Peploe
Michelangelo Antonioni
Peter Wollen
Starring Jack Nicholson
Maria Schneider
Steven Berkoff
Ian Hendry
Jenny Runacre
Music by Ivan Vandor
Cinematography Luciano Tovoli
Edited by Michelangelo Antonioni
Franco Arcalli
Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
CIPI Cinematografica
Les Films Concordia
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
United Artists
Release dates
  • 28 February 1975 (1975-02-28) (Italy)
  • 9 April 1975 (1975-04-09) (US)
Running time
119 minutes
126 minutes (extended 2005 version)
Country Italy
Language English

The Passenger (Italian: Professione: reporter) is a 1975 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Written by Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen and Antonioni, 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 on post-colonial Africa. To finish the film, he is in the Sahara desert seeking to meet with and interview rebel fighters involved in Chad's civil war. Struggling to find rebels to interview, he is frustrated when his Land Rover gets hopelessly stuck on a sand dune. After a long walk through the desert back to his hotel, a thoroughly glum Locke discovers that an Englishman, Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), who has also been staying there and with whom he had struck up a friendship, has died overnight at the hotel.

Locke decides to switch identities with Robertson; he is tired of his work, his marriage and his life, and sees an opportunity for a fresh start. Posing as Robertson, Locke reports his own death (Locke) 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 so that she may learn more about her husband's last days. Meanwhile, "Robertson" (Locke) has flown off to Europe with the dead man's belongings, including his appointment book.

Locke soon learns that Robertson was gunrunning for the rebels whom, as a reporter, Locke had been trying to contact in the desert. When he goes to check out an airport locker listed in Robertson's diary, Locke is tracked down by the rebels' point man in Europe. He is there to complete the weapons sale. Since neither man has ever seen the other before, Locke escapes the meeting without being discovered. He gives the men the documents from Robertson's locker, and accepts the first down-payment for the arms deal Robertson had set up before his death.

Later Locke accidentally spots Martin on a street in Barcelona, 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 the girl to fetch his belongings so he won't be seen at his hotel, where Martin has apparently camped out in order to catch up with "Robertson". Martin overhears that she is collecting Locke's baggage, and requests that she take him to meet "Robertson". She manages to evade him, and leaves with Locke as he drives off from Barcelona. They become lovers. While trying to explain his recent 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, but is drawn to keep the meetings listed in Robertson's book. In the meantime, Rachel has received Locke's belongings, which were returned from Africa. Having heard from Martin of his unsuccessful chase of the elusive "Robertson", Rachel receives a shock when she opens Locke's passport, only to discover the photo of Robertson pasted inside. She now realises why "Robertson" was so elusive, and heads off to Spain to track down Locke.

Locke begins fleeing from the Spanish police, who have been brought in by Rachel on the search for Robertson. The girl is loyal and helps him evade them, providing rational advice. Locke sends the girl away on a bus, saying he'll meet her in Tangiers later.

Locke checks in to the Hotel de la Gloria[2] in the Spanish town of Osuna, province of Seville. Upon checking in, he finds out that the girl has already booked them a double room. Locke then recounts a story of a blind man who regains his sight only to commit suicide after seeing the ugliness of the world, before he asks her to leave. Government agents in pursuit of Robertson arrive at the hotel, and Locke's assassination takes place off screen in a seven-minute long take-tracking shot which begins in a hotel room, travels out into a dusty parking area and tracks back into the hotel room.[3] One of the agents can be noticed in the reflection on shutter's glass on the right: he enters Locke's room, puts right hand in his inside pocket, then disappears from the frame, and a single shot is heard. The agents leave the scene minutes before the police and both women find Locke motionless in bed. His wife Rachel says she "never knew" the dead man, while the girl identifies him as Robertson.



In a long take early in the film, 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.[4]

  • 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.[5][6] 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.
  • 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][citation needed] 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.

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.


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.[7] It was placed 89th in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll.


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.
  3. ^ Chatman, p. 202.
  4. ^ Chatman, pp. 183–185, 202
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Alex el Curioso (2009-08-04). "El Reportero Antoninon escena final". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  7. ^ "Roger Ebert Reviews: The Passenger". Retrieved 2015-07-06. 

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