The Passenger is in my top 50 films of all time and is an absolute masterpiece of cinema. Jack Nicholson has never been more enigmatic or casually paranoid. Released in 1975, the quietly sinister narrative cooked up by screenwriters Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen, and director Michaelangelo Antonioni keeps you guessing all throughout, as nothing is as it seems in this picture. The impossible to understand tracking shot towards the end of the film still makes no sense even after you’ve seen how it was done – TRUE MOVIE MAGIC. Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s work on this film is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Nicholson plays a journalist who assumes the identity of a dead businessman while he’s on assignment in Africa, without realizing that he’s inadvertently posing as an international arms dealer.
Things get even more complicated when the beyond-sexy Maria Schneider appears. There’s a sense of the unknown to this film that keeps inviting me back for multiple visits per year. Seeing this on the big screen in Los Angeles, with a very stoned audience, was a major highlight; I can remember people blazing-up in the NuArt on more than one occasion. Antonioni made some truly breathtaking films (Blowup, Red Desert, La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’Avventura, Zabriskie Point) but this one is likely my favorite. All of his films require the proper state of mind before delving in, but once you’ve “gotten there,” there are few places more heady and exciting. Immediately engrossing and hugely ambitious, this is an existential drama like no other, a piece of introspective cinema that gets richer and richer with each experience.