In The Footsteps of “The Passenger”

Opening Credits

DVD of “The Passnger” — leaning on sculpture by Noah Hirka

Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passsenger” remains one of my absolutely favorite cinematic experiences.

Since the first time I saw it at the Bleecker Street Cinema some 40+ years ago I have seen it another give-or-take 30 times.

My partner Tammy and I just watched it again (it was her 3rd viewing)—this time around with an extra on the DVD release: an interesting overdubbed commentary by the lead actor in the film, Jack Nicholson.

We’ll be watching the film again before too long.

Ten Years After The Film Was Made

I went to Europe in 1985 (with my partner and fabric-meister Kate P. ) and we visited numerous sites where the “The Passenger” was shot — which served as an amazing first introduction to the brilliant architecture of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.

Finding any film’s locations can be wonderful way to wander off the beaten track and discover new places on a trip — and so we traveled to a small town in Spain named Osuna to see the Hotel de la Gloria (where the famous ultimate scene is filmed).

To our surprise we learned that not only was there no such hotel in the town of Osuna, but that the hotel in question had been fabricated specifically for the film in a town named Vera, hundreds of miles away from where we were.

Nothing was lost. We were rewarded with an unforgettable visit to a place seldom enjoyed by tourists.

Maya, (Sanskrit: “magic” or “illusion”) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy — originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion.

Osuna, Spain
The Ramblas and Hotel Oriente — two locations in “The Passenger”

Forty-four Years After The Film

I returned to Spain in 2019 with Tammy and the Anomalous Duo visited some of the same locations in Barcelona, as well as many others featured in the film—exploring the Gaudi archirecture all around the city. The Sagrada Familia basilica had an additional 30+ years of construction on it—making it truly one of the most magnificent structures ever.

With the advantage of digital cameras—in 1985 the best possibility was a roll of film with 24 photos—we took some imitative images.

AleXander Hirka & Jack Nicholson at Casa Mila, Barcelona
The Anomalous Duo — life imitating art — Casa Mila, Barcelona

I’m Not One For Writing Reviews

When I try to talk about art that I love I tend to just spill forth with enthusiasm and mumbled positive adjectives — which usually amounts to little more than: You gotta see this!

After my initial viewing of the film in the 1970s I dragged any and all willing friends to see it again and again.

There is something fascinating to me about the idea of switching identities. My introduction to the genre was courtesy of Mark Twain’s immortal “The Prince and The Pauper”—which was one of the first books I have a memory of reading, and recall loving the film versions as well.
Since then any storyline that tracks a character exchanging identities is sure to get my attention.

David Locke: “We translate every situation, every experience into the same old codes. We just condition ourselves.”
David Robertson: “We are creatures of habits.”

“The Passenger” is about a journalist, David Locke (Jack Nicholson) who is working on a documentary about a clandestine war in Chad—a war he seems unable to find.

He befriends a man staying at the hotel, a man who simply says he’s in the country “on business”. When Locke discovers that the businessman, David Robertson, is dead — and notes a resemblance on their passports — he assumes Robertson’s identity, leaving his own papers and belongings with the corpse.
He will slowly discover that the man he has chosen to become is an arms dealer with connections to the rebels in the current civil war.

Penelope Gilliant wrote in the New Yorker: “ . . . ‘The Passenger’ is the story of a man trying to fly the coop of himself. He has come to a critical moment of alienation from his English life and work. His identity and his past both seem to him matters of dislocation, and the resulting laxness has nearly consumed him. Not quite. With the courage of an almost beaten man attempting a probably final throw of the dice, he seizes the opportunity to pretend himself dead and to assume the character of a man facially very like him, victim of a fatal heart attack, whom he has met in a remote part of Africa by chance.”
[Full review HERE.]

I watch the film with wonder and awe each and every time.
Some find it slow and lacking plot.
(I love slow films that demand your attention, and thus am a fan of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr).
I find this film to have a deep inner movement that keeps me fascinated throughout.
The cinematography, the conversations, the characters, the gorgeous locations and extremely sparse music — all part of an adventure of the mind and heart.
C’mon—there is even a mysterious love interest and a car chase scene.

If you haven’t seen it, DO — and if you have, I hope I have inspired you to revisit this masterpiece of cinema.
The rewards are plentiful, the sense of awe mesmerizing.
You gotta go see this!

Jack and AleXander relaxing at the Jardins de l’Umbracle, Barcelona (Parc de la Ciutadella)
The script by Mark Peploe, Peter Wollen and Michelangelo Antonioni

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© AleXander Hirka 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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This was part of an amazing 2+ week journey through Spain & Portugal.

Writer, visual artist, philosopher, autodidact, curmudgeon. More than half of what i do is make believe. https://alexanderhirka.nyc

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