Michelangelo Antonioni

Great art, that is transcendent and cannot be transcended anymore (only, in its transcendent gaze become more intensified), establishes a perspective of Satori. Satori means a state of enlightenment that is difficult to describe, since enlightenment means that you have finally understood, and digested, the final paradoxes and aporias of existence. Satori is both an extremely intense perception and reflection as well as so extremely flexible and fluid that it is, overally, calm and eternal like the endless ocean. Satori means that you can permanently and instantly switch from motif to background, melting them into an (eternally open) One. That is, then, total reality, and your perception and reflection of total reality. Satori-percption is extremely wide, an open landscape, yet is also able to analytically sort out things and see them within extremely sharp contour. Satori is extremely intelligent. Schopenhauer, a Western philosopher that has achieved Satori, says that in order to finally understand fragmented aspects (of metaphysics) one must have understood everything else at first – and vice versa, and that means: Satori. Within the state of Satori, perception and reflection is extremely agitated and intense, yet also has also come to an end in its nervous and agitated quest for meaning since it has become the meaning itself, as a mirror of the world. It is an extremely penetrating as well as meditative gaze that sees the relations between the finite and the ininite. Therein, Satori need not be mistaken for eternal bliss and a final ascent to heaven, it can be humbly described as viewing the same things as everyone else does, only from a viewpoint one meter above everyone else. The Zen master acknowledges: Verily I say unto you, I have gained nothing from Satori! Enlightenment is, maybe, overrated. Yet it produces significance and establishes viewpoints that are stronger than the entire world. When a Satori viewpoint awakes, it is a metaphysical event that will shatter the earth.

At the moment, my three great metaphysical artists of modern cinema are Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni. Their artistic gravity is so immense that it silences you. Once you see their films, you immediately sense: This is (finallly) art! Like the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb explosion it slowly unfolds before, absolute, powerful, sublime and seemingly unaware of its own earth-shaking potential, as it unfolds in relative serenity. They show the (imaginary) depths of existence and are, therefore, somehow stronger than existence. They remind us that die Welt ist tief, und tiefer als der Tag gedacht (not least due to its flatness). Yasujiro Ozu offers razor-sharp perspectives on the defining themes of human existence, and bans the wildness of the world within extremely ordered images, therein (nevertheless, or even more) opening abysses for eternal doubt, wondering and reflection. Andrei Tarkovsky explores the double nature of man as being both a materialistic as well as a spiritual creature, maneuvering his characters through dubious landscapes and surroundings, meditating about the seemingly eternal difficulties to merge both aspects of existence, the materialistic and at-hand qualities and the spiritual and beyond the veil qualities of man, into one. Correspondingly, also Michelangelo Antonioni revolves around human (and existential) incompleteness and man´s embeddedness into a (seemingly both finite as well as infinite) environment.

„Landscapes“ is what he´s looking for, yuppie photographer Thomas half-consciously responds to the question of an old (and annoyed) art dealer in an antique shop about what he actually wants in Blow-up. Even if one is perplexed or annoyed by viewing Antonioni´s movies for the first time, one cannot help being perplexed by the sophistication with which environments, architectures and landscapes are presented either, to a degree that inanimate, mundane, everyday objects rival with the characters, or, occasionally, even overpower them, as concerns their presence and charisma. That actors and characters are overally seen as „objects in a landscape“ and as „moving space“ is what Antonioni lapidarily confirms himself. Usually, these environments are presented as a critique (or, rather, as an illustration) of modernity and the obstructive power of modern society and its routines upon individuals, despite them being also extremely tasty and beautiful and inviting, therein being very ambivalent. Likewise, it is ambivalent whether the human characters that live and move within these environments are oppressed by them or whether their fabulous intellectual and emotional stuntedness – that makes them almost similarly inanimate to the exuberantly presented object world – are a result to cultural opression or a cause in itself. Most people that populate reality are, more or less, products of their environment, to a degree that they are not even able to reflect and to which they are indifferent, Antonioni´s environments are presented as extremely intrusive and out their to be explored, yet the individuals fail to do so and prefer to remain in an almost idiotic privacy and indifference. In an important scene in La notte (and within the entire oeuvre of Antonioni in general), Lidia takes a both explorative as well as drifting walk through the city; with her marriage already coming to an end obviously curious what possibilities may be at hand for her out there in this world. Therein, she gradually discovers freedoms and possibilities, yet also, and seemingly more prominent, dead ends, not only as concerns the people/males she meets but also seemingly as concerns the whole structure and architecture of the (modern) world, leaving her finally (respectively for the moment) exhausted and in a fatigue, in her own solitude. Despite that, her interest in her environment is not very deep, and not very sympathetic. She would need to smell the concrete of the spindling buildings and to touch it, in order to experience the world in the right way (or in the Satori way), as it seems. Then she would also be able to establish more meaningful interpersonal relationships, and exprience herself in a quasi electromagnetic field of connectedness. In the final seven minutes of L´eclisse you see the same urban environment next to Vittoria´s home, the intersection, where people may come accross or pass by, where they may meet or ignore each other, as the day gradually closes. It is both a brutal and a peaceful environment, an architecture of industrial aggression as well as providing shelter and safe homes, it seems both highly complex and immersive and in no way bearing any secret at all: it is just radiating a meditative presence. At least for those who are able to see and to experience. The characters in the movie are obviously not (yet) able to do so. In both The Passenger and L´eclisse there are moments, however, in which the female main characters (mildly) rave about the beauty of nature – yet at remote places to which they have randomly been taken to and which – in contrast to most other environments depicted in the films – are actually quite a void and unimmersive (cinematographically at least, they are left distinctly unelaborated), making it questionable whether their (feminine) receptiveness to the idiosyncracies of their environment actually hits the target or, grotesquely, misses it. Antonion´s environments serve as something both heternomous, obstructive, and as an illustration of man´s Geworfenheit into circumstances that may be alien to him, as well as an illustration of the internal landscapes and interior worlds of his characters, not only inasmuch as these are determined by external circumstances yet also, and more importantly, by what the individual makes out of them and how he perceives them. Therein, Antonioni´s movies may be perspectives where man is, as an individual, practically absent and truly reduced to an object in the landscape, as well as portrayals of almost solipsistic bubbles in which the characters live, indifferent to the outside world. This marks the span and range of Antonioni´s grasp on reality and, more tacitly, his understanding that reality itself is a subject-object relationship, a flexible relationship between ontology and epistemology that cannot be fixed from the outside and that is stable as well as instable, with no definitive meaning, since meaning is always produced and destroyed by changing circumstances and via individual viewpoints, i.e. subject-object relationships. Despite Antonioni´s architectures, environments and landscapes are (usually) sublime, definitive and solid, they also appear as extremely fresh and virgin, astonishing, and as if you would see them for the first time. This is so because of the way Antonioni chooses to look at them. In a piece devoted to Antonioni („Dear Antonioni“) philosopher Roland Barthes notes that the penetrative as well as meditative gaze Antonioni establishes has something inherently subversive, „because to look longer than expected (I insist on this added intensity) disturbs established orders of every kind“. Likewise, the penetrative gaze is both political and antipolitical, as in its dismissiveness of definitive meanings and to (egoistically or egomanically) fixate meanings it is inherently anti-fanatic. In Heideggerian terminology, the art of Michelangelo Antonioni seems to try to establish a Lichtung des Seins, via an ecstatic Besinnlichkeit, involving all faculties of man (and of the world), to dive into the depths of the world, of both subjetivity and objectivity, an – since an exoteric, godlike viewpoint is impossible – exploration of „In-der-Welt-sein“. And, as you have it in the philosophy of Heidegger, in the exploration of In-der-Welt-sein nothing is actually predetermined; our minds and our faculties in general are not taken as to operate within eternal categories (like you have it in the tradition of Kantian philosophy) but are more fluid, and In-der-Welt-sein itself refers to an interrelationship between man and his environment rather as a network that is always changing than a system that is given and fixed (depending, of course, on the versatility of both subject and the object). At the end of Antonioni´s final movie, Al di là delle nuvole, the alter ego director ruminates that what he has been doing all his life is to try to find human truths by taking pictures; behind them will be further pictures, very down the abyss there may be an „absolute reality“ that no one will ever come to see. Which is true, since outside the subject-object relationship and the In-der-Welt-sein there is no absolute reality. Antonioni´s films are a penetrating and meditative gaze upon reality in which this absolute and final (condition of) human reality shimmers through. That ist he vision within Satori. At the very final shot of L´eclisse you see an agitatedly illuminated streetlight at the final stage of evening twilight, of eclipse, seemingly aggressive as well as helpless and tattered concerning its contour, seemingly frightening as well as frightened, an instance that is one step above us and tries to guide and illuminate us, in its own reducedness and helplessness. That is the Satori.  

The postwar decades brought not only a solid liberal democracy and stupendous economic growth to Europe but also massive social change, especially in a rather traditional and rural country like Italy, uprooting people not only practically (i.e. due to mass migration from rural to urban places) but also culturally and spiritually. In Il grido Aldo is an (eccentric) embodiment of an uprooted man, feeling lost in the contemporary cultural environment and, finally, unable to adapt. After he had become dismissed by his common-law wife, Irma, he wanders through the Po Valley, together with his little daughter, Rosalina, to find a new settlement. Yet he is unable to find a new job, and, what is more, a relationship with another woman that would satisfy him. As he tries to return to Irma, he finds out that the reason for her breaking up the relationship had been that she had given birth to a child by another man. He climbs on a tower at the sugar factory he had previously been employed at, and, as Irma follows him, falls from the tower in front of Irma (provoking her visceral scream/grido – while the entire film could be seen as an expression of silent scream inside Aldo). It is unclear whether he commited suicide or he fell from the tower by accident, as he seemed to faint or lose his balance. Aldo´s depression and passiveness is enigmatic. He mourns the loss of Irma, but remains stubbornly unable to establish new relationships, maybe due to an inability to connect and an inability to love. From what we see, he even does not truly connect to his daughter. We do not know whether this is due to a depression or revealing of a more general and permanent condition inside him. Is the breakup with Irma probably so traumatic for him because he loves her so deeply, or rather because he feels emasculated (within a cultural condition of a declining patriarchy) or considers it a narcissistic insult? Or is his depression actually justified as life has little to offer to him, a simple proletarian, outside his marriage and his job (in which he obviously had been happy, or at least found fulfillment)? The flat and deserted landscape of the Po Valley through which Aldo wanders offers space to roam, to explore freedom, yet it is not exactly a land of opportunities and not a native land to provide shelter, making Aldo lost and vanishing in it; while at the same time it seems an expression of his deserted inner life, his uninterestedness and his flat, depressed, grey emotionality, making the entire condition a Möbius-strip of a conflictual In-der-Welt-sein. Most unnerving, the film offers no explanation of its ending, and, therefore, its actual message. Both intepretations, that Also commits suicide or that he falls to death by accident are not very plausible. Maybe it has to be understood primarily as symbolic, as an expression for Aldo having come to a dead end and having lost his desire to live – or (a fantasy inside him) to punish Irma by his suicide, or to provoke an actual emotion, and a great sympathy for him inside her again, maybe with the hope to reunite with her – maybe it is even meant to be a death oft he „old“ Aldo, who finally manages to let go, and the birth of a „new“ Aldo. It has also been suggested to view Il grido (and Antonioni´s films in general) as inner psycho dramas, or even as dreams, yet there is too much reality in them to find that satisfactory. These lacks of resolution, and the Möbiusstrip-like intertwindedness of interior and exterior world, as well as the both eccentric and both highly symbolic and almost archetypical characters will be permanent features in the films of Antonioni. The problem of Aldo finally seems to be that he – and in fact most of Antonioni´s quasi inexplicable characters and their inexplicable actions – is a flat and shallow, underdeveloped man whose psychological integration is incomplete, with contradictory features that may exaggerate and become even more disorganised when put under stress. The problem in finding out a good reason and explanation for their uncanny psychological states is due to the actual absence of a good reason, due to their lack of depth, while they are in a genuine strive with an insensitive world that puts the individual under a genuine stress. Aldo seems reminiscent of Camus` Stranger, who is both a highly abnormal figure as well as a cultural archetype. As individuals, and especially in a modern, anonymous mass society, we are all strangers; and while Aldo seems to be eccentric, finding it hard to cope with changing circumstances, loss of love and traumatic injuries is deeply human, and distinguishes humans from psychopaths.

While Aldo had been a simple proletarian, inarticulate, immobile, a probably honest and innocent and naive man, whose morale coordinate system had become shattered by what he had perceived as dishonest and by what had uprooted him from his traditional existence, and while Antonioni had sympathies for the proletarians and the socially excluded, he would rather illuminate a smiliar fatigue and helplessness prevailing among the bourgeoisie, the technocrats and even in artists and bourgeois-bohemians, i.e. supposedly more articulate, more mobile and more priviledged people all alike in his following films L´avventura, La notte and L´eclisse that are, in retrospect, considered a trilogy (or a tetralogy, if Il deserto rosso was included as well). L`avventura had an eccentric and confusing impact upon its release, and truly initiated a new language and a new grammar within filmmaking. Uneventful and slow, actually lacking a true drama, leaving one confused whether that what you just saw in these films are affairs truly important or some mere coincidences, Antonioni challenged the hitherto rules of cinema, most notably also as concerns its aesthetics, and, paradixically, by making them more „arty“ and demanding, brought the vision outlined closer to everyday life than tradidional commercial films usually do. L`avventura is about the end of a man´s relationship, leading into a relationship with another woman. La notte is about how tacit events that happen in one night can lead to a fundamental shift of perception upon each other, finally causing a breakdown of a hitherto functioning, but also ailing marriage. L`eclisse opens with a young woman ending her first true relationship after some years and exploring her new freedom. In L`avventura bourgeois people go on a boat trip, at which Anna mysteriously (and impossibly) disappears after she confirms the end of her love and her relationship with Sandro. Sandro quickly develops an interest in Claudia (Monica Vitti) and as the search for Anna remains unfruitful and people´s memory of her gradually fades, we witness how the relation between Sandro and Claudia unfolds. Sandro is an obviously shockinkly carefree womanizer and a neurotic since though he has a well-compensated job he had traded it for a career as an artist and is true self-actualisation, making him envidious of other artists. As soon as the relationship with Claudia is established, he impulsively womanises with a prostitute, being interrupted by Claudia he falls in despair in an almost infantile regression, and finally gets consoled by Claudia. In La notte Giovanni, a writer, and Lidia are a married couple. Despite their marriage seems to function, both seem to be annoyed by it and trapped inside it as well. Giovanni is unhappy that as a writer he „no longer has inspirations, only recollections“ and tries to womanize outside the relationship. Lidia seems tired of Giovanni, due to his obvious emotional absent-mindedness behind his more glamorous surface and events during a nightly party making her finally lose confidence in the marriage so that she decides to leave him, while Giovanni, in despair, in infantile regression and an impotent attempt to show his love and make love with her tries to persuade her to stay with him. In L`eclisse Vittoria leaves the educated Riccardo at the beginning, seems to explore her new freedom, hooks up with her girlfriends and meets Piero, a broker, who is working for her neurotic and money-mad mother, triggering a tacit romantic affair between them that eventually does not work out (at least not for the moment). Throughout the trilogy, the bulk of the characters is quite inhumane, unbalanced, hurtful as well as vulnerable, indifferent yet agitated, passive, aggressive, eager to establish relationships and to find love and then not very disciplined at holding on to them; overally, they seem somnambulent and unaware, not using their potential (or, as seems to be more prominently the case, without great potential). Therein, Antonioni´s films and the alienation and strangeness they radiate seems due to them offering a vision actually more closer to reality than comercial films usually do. Despite their flatness, Antonioni´s characters have more „depths“ and facets than do have characters in comercial movies (as characters in comercial movies are not quite how human are but rather how they want to be and how they like to imagine the human world). It is not clear whether the men in the trilogy are womanizing because of being possessive and proud and macho-like, or because of their desire to find true love and to dive deeper into the mysteries of love as they usually seem boyishly curious and innocent and not motivated by sinister intentions as they approach the respective women (or, plain and simple, whether they do so due to the urges of their sex drive they are too boyish to keep in check). And it is not clear to where the women and their emancipatory moves are headed to neither. „I am not intelligent, I am alert“, confirms Valentina in La notte (respectively Monica Vitti, more or less on behalf of all the characters she portrays in Antonioni´s films). „Woman is the more subtle filter of reality“, confirms Antonioni himself, and the actually central characters, who embody the „active“ principle, who develop and who move on in his trilogy are the women. Despite being „a more subtle filter to reality“ the women in the trilogy/tetralogy engage in relationships with unsensitive, materialistic and erratic men, yet also manage to emancipate themselves from them, therein indicating the possibility of man´s emancipation from unfullfilling prevailing circumstances that had tacitly become obsolete. Tacit is also the hope about how far their emancipation, and any emancipation, can go. Vittoria leaving Riccardo for unspecified reasons at the beginning of the film and her deciding against becoming romantically involved with (the materialistic and randomly acquainted) Piero at the end may be a tale of personal growth, of a young woman (still somehow a girl) becoming more autonomous, or just generally doing the right thing by avoiding unsatisfactory and unsustainable relationships instead of falling prey to them, yet we do not know whether that point of view is the correct one: Her mediocre emotional flatness and her (and the other characters`) inability to love deeply and to establish true and responsible human relationships may as well be a permanent feature. Alertness is, at least, the state of the artist, and of Satori – more generally of the „awakened“ human being, and the precondition to personal growth – Antonioni seems to advocate alertness, ironically also as his films demand a lot of alertness, attention and investigation in order to be truly understood – yet then, the viewer will find, as a gratification, infinite pleasure in them that is much more intense and lasting than pleasure or emotional attachment that may arise from comercial movies, even if they are very good. – The trilogy is also most famous for depicting the human condition within environments and landscapes (with espcecially La notte being so carefully elaborated that it seems an almost inhuman – or superhuman – effort). In L´avventura the whole vision is, relative to the follow-up movies, comparably tattered, yet also for the obvious reason that the environments hardly ever seem to fit, people would meet up (or lose themselves) at places that seem grossly inadequate for the actual purposes (a feature that would, most prominently, return in The Passenger), space is out of joint – as are people, as are their interpersonal relationships. Whereas in La notte the architecture of modernity is presented as extremely impenetrable, well-formulated and solid, seemingly subjugating man to its own anonymous logic and suggesting a triumph of modernity (over man), the landscapes of modernity in L`eclisse are open and dispersed, seemingly fragile and inconclusive about where the logic of modernity is actually headed at (therein, in the context of the movie, giving individuals free space to roam, which they, nevertheless, prefer to use to refrain from deep interpersonal relationships and a general come together, preferring to descent into relative solitude, i.e. making up for a somehow inconclusive and dispersed landscape of human relationships – respectively reminding us that landscape makes only up for a space of coexistence, and not necessarily „connectedness“ between people and between things). In general, we do not really know what we see in Antonioni´s films: do they depict individuals in a great and central drama, the drama of their life, or are we watching something transitory and not even particularly meaningful (depending, at least, on the ability of the characters to extract meaning out of these events, leaving it further open about whether such an ability is strong and progressively developing in them, or not at all), are their neuroses characteristic of an entire Zeitgeist and are these characters symptomatic or are there neuroticisms isolated and very personal failures; the characters come from „nowhere“ and little about their personal history is revealed (or investigated by their fellows) at the beginning and we don´t know where they are going to and headed at at the end; are they in a state of transition or is it an illumination of their permanent nature; are the things that happen to them meaningful, maybe in retrospect, in their biography, or they just uncharacteristic distractions and alien to them; will they finally grow when they are able to detect the hidden meanings in the things that happen to them, or is the actually intelligent approach not to get lost in pseudo-meanings and overintepretation of random constellations? L`eclisse may be the film where these Antonionian characteristics and ambiguities are driven to their extreme.

„I am not intelligent, I am alert“ – in Il deserto rosso Monica Vitti (portraying Giuliana) has become hyper-alert (interfering with and reducing her intelligence). According to Antonioni Il deserto rosso is about a woman who is very neurotic, actually on the brink of psychosis. Despite that, and despite her being very confused, it is doubtful how neurotic she actually is, as she does not seem to have egocentric complexes or carry a disability to establish meaningful relationships, rather she seems disturbed that the others around her seemingly cannot. In its extreme colorfulness the industrial environment oft he red desert seems so intrusive that it seems to negate the possibility of reflection and meditation, seems to destroy the adequacy of traditional analytical tools by confronting man in a more primary and primordial way, demanding more primary and primordial methods of orientation. As Antonioni notes Il deserto rosso is not about emotions but about „the epidermal relations to the world, the perception of sounds, of colors and the coldness of the people that populate this world“. Giuliana is actually reminiscent to a child that experiences the world via flashy sensations and (partial) objects she nevertheless has not been hitherto able to make sense of. All the other people seem to be more competent in finding their place in this world than she is able to – including her own little son. Although it is not clear whether all these others are masters of reality, or actually its slaves and mastered by reality. Both Giuliana´s husband and her son are males that have an interest in technology; what is more, due to their conformism they are able to get along in this modern world without great effort – yet at the price that they are not very sensitive and not very interesting individuals, and that they seem to radiate a quiet despair. Ugo, an acquaintance of her husband with whom she gets romantically involved (despite in an affair that is rather a caricature of a romantic affair), is a more autonomous and a more interesting, but also a more ambivalent and egocentric man, yet he seems to be inherently nervous, womanising impulsively and planning business projects in far away (and more „virgin“) countries, i.e. navigating eccentrically through this modern world, both apparently somehow firm and somehow lost. Also he seems partially uprooted and in some kind of despair. According to Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death, despair comes from an individual not being true to himself, therein despair may also be present in fully integrated (and not very alert) conformists, at least in some unconscious fashion. Giuliana is the antithesis to them. In her hypersensitivity, or alertness, Giuliana is the only person in the red desert that „truly lives“ and authentically experiences, who is not (respectively only by accident) neurotically egocentric, but confused by her open-mindedness and, as she cannot relate to the people around her and they cannot truly relate to her, lacking a clear identity. It is, therein, an identity crisis not due to neuroticism and abnormality but due to psychological transparency (and therefore not being a „type“ and not being able to actually get normed by institutions) and due to hypersensitivity, that is, not yet and due to the respective reasons, a self-aware hypersanity. In contrast to the people surrounding her who are – due to their conformism – able to move through society like a fish in the water, Giuliana has oceanic feelings of being embedded in an idyllic world, whose idyllic qualities are, nevertheless, lost. Therefore she cannot truly navigate through the real world and seems neurotic, as she has too many lose ends concerning her shape and identity. In the end, however, she seems to accept the loss of her childlike self-image and the existential fact that she is a seperated and autonomous individual. The acceptance of that seperatedness is both painful and a relief as it opens the path for her to becoming an autonomous and competent individual. It is left open whether Giuliana will manage to unite in her the best of both worlds, i.e the awareness of connectedness as well as seperatedness, of being a dreamer and a realist, an artist and a scientist, etc. – to sum up: a fully developed personality. Antonioni notes that Il deserto rosso should show that the industrial architectures and landscapes of modernity are not only ugly and frightening, but of equal beauty to architectures of the (occasionally idealised) past and to nature itself. And he concludes that Il deserto rosso is about adaption: about the necessity of man to adapt to new circumstances and a changing world.

The following, and most famous film Blow-up may be also about becoming and personal growth. The central character, photographer Thomas, is a younger man, both settled and successful as well as boyish and a bit snoppy, actually quite a contradiction in itself. Basically, Thomas is not alert, and in a grotesque way unaware of the world he inhabits. He does not like the shallow fashion models he is working with on a daily basis and does not treat them very well and even is shockingly unaware of their eccentric beauty, he is unresponsive to the beauty of nature and he drives with his Rolls Royce to photograph the poor in his attempts to do „true“ photographic art meant as a social commentary. He is always busy and seemingly always on the run and eager to change his (life) situation, but in doing so, he is erratic, impulsive and distracted and on a permanent random walk. It is actually hard to believe how Thomas can be renowned photographer as he obviously is only interested in finding (more or less) interesting subjects and objects to do his photography, in order to „take over“ them and consume them, but never to actually experience them. Most of the characters in the film are similar to that, as Blow-up portrays a young generatio n that is successful and dynamic and that has become the pacemaker of cultural and professional life in London of the 1960s, but that is also neglectful and directionless, in their hectictness and business they are absent-minded and passive, in their unquestionable dedication and professionalism with which they do their things there is shallowness and superficiality in the way they experience (themselves in doing) these things; in the words of Antonioni himself „a generation that has approached a certain individual freedom … and freedom from feelings too“. Whereas in Il deserto rosso the colours are extremely bright and penetrating, corresponding to the hypersensitivity of the main character and the obstrusiveness of the modern world, in Blow-up you have dull colours, corresponding to the indifferent perception of its personel and of its main character photographer Thomas. Not that Thomas or any of the characters is unappealing and hard to be liked, neither they are truly arrogant or vain – it is that they are unaware, unconscious and not alert, as adolescents typically are. Therein, Thomas (and most others) seem to be motivated by unconscious desires for love, for intimacy, for „landscapes“, for social justice and creating a better world, for exploring secrets and for „the real thing“, it just seems that they are suspended in their personal growth to truly experience such desires, to accept them and to transform them into something meaningful – as adolescents typically are. The – real or imaginary – murder case finally is something that forces Thomas to pay attention to reality and become highly alert, yet, also due to the inattentiveness of the people that surround him, leaves him in ever more confusion about its true nature and about what actually had happened, finally leaving him standing there not as a successfully grounded and self-confident young urban professional, but as a lost child in the park (therein finally „embedded in a landscape“) as the camera moves to the heavens. The unforgettable final scene of the hippies playing an imaginary tennis match, tangentially involving Thomas, is one of the „enigmatic“ masterpieces that seem both clear-cut as well as „open to endless interpretation“, while in fact they are actually simple, but highly suggestive. The imaginary tennis match is both a metaphor for the illusionary depths of perception as well as that perception is, to a significant degree, a social construct. Thomas has, by then, truly experienced „reality“ in the most profound way, as an interrelationship between ontology and epistemology that can never be broken up or experienced „from the outside“, but that can be expanded and contracted and experienced in countless nuances and facets within that relationship – depending on how much one is „alert“. Thomas had his – confusing and hard-hitting – epiphany, it is now up to him – as concerns the deontology that may be derived from „the interrelationship between ontology and epistemology“ – whether he uses it for personal growth or remains a rather aimless drifter.

While Blow-up had served as a portrait of the most contemporary London, Zabriskie Point aimed to be a portrait of most contemporary America, the land of unlimited opportunity and of the most distinct culture of individualism and individualistic freedom. Yet, as Arrowsmith ruminates in his seminal study of Antonioni and his art, Zabriskie Point may call into question whether liberalism, individualism and idealism can even be a meaningful response to the challenges in the (contemporary) world. The great idealism of the 1968 generation is viewed upon with some sympathy, but Antonioni´s judgement remains distinctly sober. Zabriskie Point is inherently pessimistic, or at least sceptical, whether the „other world“, the utopia that transcends contemporary industrial and capitalistic society, needs to be something so particularly flashy and groovy. The heated discussions of the revolutionary students in their crowded, overpopulated and uncharismatic room at the film´s beginning are somehow unnerving (and conflictual), Mark is a petty (or maybe even a serious) criminal, with some macho attitudes, somehow directionless and careless, and not very bright. The capitalists are not particularly vile and their plans to capitalise over individualistic life choices and make profit out of them appear as something rather positive than something negative, and their desert mansion is one of the tastiest things ever seen on screen (so is its explosion, but only for the moment, and only in imagination; otherwise it may refer to the negative destructive power of revolutionary spirit). Daria´s short stay at the roadhouse in the Mojave desert may serve as an actual illustration of a (ghost) world uncorrupted by civilisation, indicating that such isles in the desert will always exist, in asynchronicity. But they may not be an inviting place to live at, at least not for most people. The power of the imaginary, and of the imaginary utopia, will live on, because the imaginary is a coordinate of human existence, seems to be the conclusion of Zabriskie Point. Finally, however, the imaginary remains trapped within itself or may merge with actual reality only occasionally (in the cosmic love scene in Death Valley). Nevertheless, that´s life. It needs to be lived. The originally obstinately naive Daria has learned some lessons and did make contradictory experiences, by reflecting on them she may grow older and wiser and more useful to society and be someone able to „work with emotionally distubed children“ (Zabriskie Point was done by relying on layman actors (for the better or the worse), and in real life, Daria Halprin became a creative arts therapist in later life; Mark Frechette, by contrast, and uncannily, died at the age of 27 in prison after he had been involved in a bankrobbery in which one of his comrades got shot by the police). (Btw, after Antonioni had a decade in which he, rightfully, received highest praise for his works, and despite today Zabriskie Point is probably Antonioni´s most famous film next to Blow-up, Zabriskie Point initially got very negative, even disrespectful reviews, to a degree that somehow seems irrational. Making you wonder whether the bulk of humanity, and of art critics, maybe cannot stand permanent adoration of others and needs to take occasional revenge on them.)

What may be considered a weakness throughout the oeuvre of Antonioni is that there permanently are things that do not add up for good. Distortion and alienation is a legitimate means of artistic expression, but Antonioni seems to drive both his characters and his stories frequently over the edge. The question may appear, how can the heavy neuroses of most of his central characters serve as an illustration of the Zeitgeist, actually not only as an illumination and critique of an entire epoche, but, as it seems, of the human condition in general? Antonioni´s characters are, actually, often not typical humans, frequently they are weirdos. And what is even the cause for their sufferings and eccentricities? Why is Aldo so unnaturally passive and depressed in Il grido? Why are people, and especially Sandro, so inhuman in L´avventura (and why are they so lifeless and emotionally drained in L` eclisse)? What is the nature of Giulia´s existential confusion (or „neurosis“) in Il deserto rosso? How can someone so uninterested in the world, indifferent to beauty and dismissive against people, especially against women or poor people be a renowned photographer/artist like Thomas in Blow up? Of course, these characters are meant to be illustrative – and in being so flat out illustrative they may even serve as their own caricatures (which would make them even more comprehensive), yet, then again, Antonioni´s films are too serious to be convincingly populated by caricatures – but there is an apparent conflict between the obvious eccentricity of Antonioni´s characters and their appeal to serve as cultural stereotypes or even archetypes. Furthermore, the physics, the fabric of reality does not seem to add up in the supposedly hyper-realistic philosophical and artistic investigations about man´s position in the world that are Antonioni´s movies. Did Aldo fall from the building at the end of Il grido due to accident or did he commit suicide? To where and how did Anna magically disappear in L´avventura? Who shot the policeman in Zabriskie Point? Is the unnamed woman that accompanies David Robertson/David Locke in Professione: Reporter a random stranger or some kind of spy? And, most notoriously, did the murder case in Blow up happen or not? The films do not provide answers or provide inconclusive or contradictory hints. In doing so, the reality as presented in the films is not only ambiguous, multi-faceted, opaque and covered within the Veil of Maja, impossible to for the characters in the films to finally become transparent and to see through; reality, as presented in the films of Antonioni, is itself irrational and illogical, at crucial moments obviously evades natural laws and causality (or, if you want, makes the reality presented not only impenetrable to the characters within the films, but also to the more omniscient spectator of the films). That seems unsatisfactory, because reality is not like that; it might be ambiguous but not illogical or acausal (you may think you can resolve the issues of the irrationalities by referring to Antonioni´s movies, especially L´avventura, being somehow dreamlike, yet, overally, they are not). Exaggerations may seem as solutions at hand or as a necessity in pointing out how reality is and art and drama relies on exaggerated characters and exaggerated situations, yet artistic exaggerations eventually lose that respective efficiency when when they become overstretched. Then, characters and situations become implausible. A conflict like this is, however, prominent at the apex of art; also in the description of the human, all too human drama by Shakespeare or Dostojewski you permanently encounter otherworldly situations and characters that may seem flat out unconvincing. The great power of King Lear or The Idiot nevertheless seems impossible to achieve without the apparent shortcoming of the (main) characters being flat out unconvincing and convoluted. Such is the case also in the art of Antonioni. Without the heavily eccentric and unrealistic characters they likely would lose their universal and extremely convincing appeal and message (maybe the lack of power of Antonioni´s final cut Al di là delle nuvole is also due to the lack of convincigly unconvincing characters that populate this movie). And as concerns the obvious irrationality and acausality of the world presented in the films of Antonioni: although this is an intellectually as well as aesthetically heavily conflictual issue, Antonioni resolves them finally for the good, as these momentary lapses of reason (even within (the) reality (that is presented in the films) itself) greatly enhance the charisma of the films and the whole enterprise. Philosophically the inconclusive reality as presented in the films of Antonioni may serve as a reminder that you are eventually only watching a movie. And moreover, it may serve to illustrate that great and transcendent art maybe cannot even be without such exaggerations; a most appropriate capture of reality inherently needs to move beyond reality – that metaphysical art needs temporal evasion from the realm of physics and the natural laws and causality that govern (and imprision) events within the physical world. Antonioni is an artist equal to Shakespeare or Dostojewski. The intellectual nuancedness and sophistication of his vision are comparable to those of the grand masters of literature, the depths of his complexity endless, making his artworks infinte. Infinity and totality necessarily are self-contradictory or paradoxical. And so, also the films of Michelangelo Antonioni seemingly must bear contradictory elements. Its their nature. In their eccentricity, the films of Michelangelo Antonioni are perfect circles, philosophically and artistically. That is to say, Antonioni´s mediatations about existential incompleteness are finally something that achieves undisputability and completion. That is so because they stem from Satori.

Professione: Reporter – The Passenger is the final of Antonioni´s canonical movies, and probably the inherent peak and point of no return of Antonioni´s entire artisitic vision and ideology. The great, and always critically illuminated themes of growth, becoming and transformation are taken to their extreme and are portrayed to finally lead to death and/or nirvana. David Locke (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) is a 37 year old renowned journalist and reporter who has come to a dead end, frustrated with his life and with himself, carrying the desert of frustrated indifference and saturation inside him; as well as that he initially operates in a remote desert, in an unsuccessful attempt to find and interview an elusive rebel army in Africa at the film´s beginning (a rebel army fighting for a better world at present, but maybe just as corrupt and egoistic once it has seized power). By chance, he fakes his own death and assumes the identity of his deceased neighbor in his hotel, David Robertson, about whom he knows practically nothing, but who turns out to be an arms dealer on behalf of the elusive rebels, making him a target for agents of the country´s secret serivice who will finally assassinate him. In escaping from his own identity he finds himself cought in the prison of another one´s, which he seems to accept with some resignation from the onset. His quest for identity is semi-determined by the instructions in Robertson´s calender, by appointments that succeed or, mysteriously, fail and by meeting and collaborating with an anonymous girl that could be a random stranger or a spy or some kind of detective (brilliantly portrayed, congenial to Monica Vitti, by Maria Schneider). At the same time, he gets persecuted by secret service agents and by his former colleagues and his former – both seemingly dominant as well as somehow erratic – wife, from which he tried to escape as well. Locke is both quite a complex, competent and successful character, and surely the most self-actualised of all of Antonioni´s main characters, yet it is also revealed that his complexity and competence is limited, good enough to fit into the higher echelons of professional life but not to transcend them, and that, despite his skills at storytelling and his „fabulous power of observation“ he (correspondigly) remains internally vacant (an expression of philosopher John Locke´s concept of the mind as a tabula rasa). The limitations of the written and unwritten rules of his profession (which actually are out there for good and make some sense) finally reduce him to having beome a conformist or a pseudo-nonconformist – indicating that true self-actualisation, transgression and transcendence would require superhuman abilities, respectively, even another world that does not interfere and remains unobtrusive (and such a world cannot exist). Respectively, indicating that superhuman qualities may finally just make things even more complicated and the psychological, philosophical and real-world struggles more intense. Near the end of the movie, and most imminent to Locke´s/Robertson´s (nevertheless unexpected) demise, Locke (not Robertson) tells a story to the girl about a blind man who finally got able to see: first that man felt overwhelmed and full of bliss by the perceived richness, beauty and colorfulness of the world, only to subsequentially become ever more depressed and irritated because of the bad things he could finally see more clearly as well (and, obviously, being the truer qualitities of existence to him than the positive ones), so that the man finally commited suicide after three years. That is seen as Locke telling a parable about himself, and that his entire journey in the film and his transformation into Robertson (making him descent into an exciting but also violent and likely also criminal world) is a slow suicide or a desire for death, highlighted by various incidents and sarcastic, disillusioned comments Locke makes throughout the movie (taking them as a sense for his imminent death or even as clairvoyance, and not just as random events/comments may be erronous though as well). As a star reporter, Locke presumably has seen the whole world, and even its most remote places, indicating that transcendence must necessarily lead him to unearthly realms and transformation cannot happen anymore in this world for him. Locke´s violent (and erronous) (and, as is also likely, unwanted) death by murder comes quiet, almost peaceful and like a euthanasia, and the spectacular final scene with the long and tranquil camera move seems to indicate the passage of his soul to some kind of nirvana (or maybe also only his elusiveness). Arrowsmith notes how Professione: Reporter – The Passenger succeeds in the attempt of any great art, namely offering a glimpse at absolute reality, by permanently switching from background to foregound (therein finally merging them), the ambiguity of meanings, the symbolic as well as elusive idiosyncrasy of things, the interplay between order and chaos, by displaying the interplay of the registers of the imaginary, the real and the symbolic, the concept of journey leading into the great wide open as well as to dead ends, the tasefulness and the bitterness of things and of people, the passage of time…. Finally, maybe seen from the perspective of Satori, the things that make up reality as well as a person are interwoven and merge into in a gigantic (pseudo-) network that is, however, permanently changing and situational, its elements fluctuating within an iron cage made of iron rules as well possibilities for excessive transgression and freedom, with unknown consequences. Such a view on a gigantic and obstrusive as well as elusive network that is absolute reality you may have in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and most notably in Professione: Reporter – The Passenger, where the central characters are the most active and determined ones, and most close to „enlightenment“ and transcendence in the entire oeuvre of Antonioni. Professione: Reporter – The Passenger indicates that enlightenment and Satori, the ability to see things from an elevated perspective, is tricky and risky. Eastern Satori therefore tries to achieve freedom from any desire and acceptance that reality is „not real“. That leads, however, to passiveness and is, however, an unrealistic grasp upon reality. No matter how far we are able to reach out, the world will always remain to have good and bad aspects, says Goethe, from his top view of intellectual perception and at an old age in his Maximen und Reflexionen. That is life, and it has to be lived. Satori gives you a distinctly more intense and more intelligent, and a more colorful and joyful perception and grasp of reality, but it is tricky and risky as well, because that is how reality is. The Zen master acknowledges: Verily I say unto you, I have gained nothing from Satori! Absolute transcendence and stability is an imaginary quality, that is only possible beyond this world, in death or in an otherwordly, and probably very boring nirvana. Yet in the long run we are all dead, as we all are just passengers. Embrace the moment, as they say. Arrowsmith concludes his study about Antonioni – and his entire oeuvre being a both joyful as well as painful meditation of human and general metaphysical incompleteness – with reference to Antonioni´s fellow Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and his reflection on a metaphysical tedium the Italians call noia:

Noia is in some sense the most sublime of human emotions (…) there is certainly our inability to be satisfied by any earthly thing or even by the entire world … To imagine the infinite numbers of worlds and the infinite universe and to feel that our minds and desires would still be greater than such a universe, always to accuse things of insufficiency and nothingness, and to suffer the want and the void: this seems to me the best proof of the grandeur and nobility of human nature.

April 2020