Saturday, December 22, 2007

Martin Walsh on The Passenger

"At one point early in the film Nicholson points out that “we translate every experience into the same old codes.” Whether the line comes from Peploe, Wollen, or Antonioni is not of importance (though I'd bet on Wollen: the emphasis on codes links to the interest in semiotics he has been pursuing for some years). Its importance for our understanding of The Passenger is of crucial significance. On one level, it helps make sense of Nicholson’s desire to cease being David Locke, to adopt a new identity, to escape the tyranny of the co-ordinates of his present existence, to re-open his life to new experiences. However, the way in which David Locke attempts to recharge his life proves fraught with unanticipated, uncontrollable dangers which ultimately lead to his death. The idea of a complete break from the past (as it was for Godard and Gorin in Tout va bien) is shown to be illusory, even self-defeating. Such a radical severance from the structures of one’s identity leads clearly to disaster.

"But an alternative mode, another response is posed within the film, in Antonioni’s handling of the narrative discourse itself. And it is here that a second meaning of “we translate every experience into the same old codes” manifests itself. Antonioni’s narrative is devoted, we might say, to transforming the codes of narrative at work in his discourse even as he uses them. The narrative codes at points are placed against the meanings we infer, conventionally, from the diachronic ordering of the images. An example: David Locke, now Robertson, sits alone in a huge glasshouse, awaiting a rendezvous. An old guy approaches him, Robertson speaks to him. Although he is not the man Robertson awaits, he cheerfully stops to talk awhile, and launches into the story of his life: “One day, very far from here ...” he begins, at which sound and image fade, as if in flashback. They are replaced by the faded greens of a 16mm newsreel, which turns out to be of the public executions on a beach (the new governments attempts to discourage armed robbery). When the sequence ends, we find the newsreel is being watched on a Steenbeck editing table back in a London studio. The real context of the footage is that it was shot by David Locke, reporter.

"In other words, Antonioni feeds us a false tradition: If we read the sequence of images in the way U.S. narratives have taught us to do, if we simply “translate every experience into the same old codes,” the narrative becomes momentarily opaque, refuses to make sense, since it is difficult to invent a connection between the old man and the executions, (unless we choose to read the old man as Locke’s “conscience” visiting him, reminding him of his own past—and even here we can only grasp this possible reading after the fact—i.e., when we know this footage was shot by David Locke)."

(source)

3 comments:

Patrick Ciccone said...

David Locke= David Hume +John Locke

Hedwig said...

Fascinating quote, thank you. I've seen the Passenger three times now, but I feel like there's still worlds to discover, and I think it's aged much better than Blow-up.

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