The Passenger is a visually complex look into the deeper understanding of the human condition and the compromising notion of self. David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a famed British-American journalist. Whilst on location in Africa trying to shoot a political documentary, Locke discovers the deceased body of David Robertson (Charles Mulvehill), a drifter with seemingly no family or relative connections. Locke takes this opportunity to switch identities with Robertson, and taking on the stiff’s organized repertoire, begins a suspenseful journey on the run from a tiresome job, rocky marriage, and ultimately himself.
On his travels with Robertson’s schedule book, Locke meets an unnamed architecture student (Maria Schneider, credited as “Girl” in the movie) in Barcelona, whom eventually joins Locke in his persistent mission of leading a new, yet clouded existence. It is on Locke’s travels that he finds out what the real deal with Robertson is; a gun-runner selling to guerilla forces in Africa. Locke becomes a man on the run. From authorities, from his boss Martin Knight (Ian Hendry) and from his now estranged wife Rachel (Jenny Runacre), who begins a search mission for the stranger Robertson, the last man to have seen Locke alive.
Nicholson is superb as the journo-turned-identity-thief, on the run from a past life. Nicholson was at a high in his career at the release of The Passenger; in the same year, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was also released, firmly cementing the actor’s reputation as one of the greatest screen actors alive. Maria Schneider, Ian Hendry and Jenny Runacre are all excellent in their respective roles in the film, adding their own unique blend of charismatic attributes in the film’s dark and superfluous plot.
The Passenger is an exceptionally well shot gem, originally being released in 1975 under the European title of Professione: Reporter. The Passenger screened for a limited time and then disappeared from the mainstream for several years before being re-released recently, with an additional seven minutes of footage not previously shown. The film is highly stylistic, shot stunningly on location in Africa, Spain, Germany and England. It draws more on its methodical story-telling through images rather than narrative, as there are many questions in the film left unanswered and obscure to the viewer – a style trait that Antonioni is renowned for.
The Passenger is a beautiful rendition of the traditional man-on-the-run story, often haunting and full of mystery and suspense. It is a movie that will stay in your mind for weeks after viewing, still questioning the film’s many motives. The film is thought provoking, covering themes of politics, the self, identity and of revolution. A must see for any fan of the genre, of Nicholson or Antonioni’s work, or anyone wanting to expand their horizons with a deliberately obscure piece of film masterpiece that is The Passenger.
Michelangelo Antonioni claimed never to be entirely satisfied with any of his films. He hated the cuts that MGM imposed on his film but felt that the full version of The Passenger (1975) would have come close to satisfying his high standards. At one point, he tried to have his name removed from the credits.