Go to Table of Contents of the analysis. Antonioni's films are rife with themes, peculiarities and incongruities which largely go unnoticed due his deft care in handling them and the abundant and rich audio and visual textures in which he immerses us, but they are also responsible for the sense of mystery that defies a traditional expectation of resolutions, infusing Antonioni's films with enigmatic mythic purpose. And myth is never hampered by logic. My analyses explore patterns of use of these elements with the purpose of nudging to the fore secondary plot structures and hints at meaning that may stand in opposition to the seeming lay of the land.
1 LS Saharan village with a black shrouded figure to the fore and one in blue-striped clothing. METRO GOLDWYN MAYER Presents
The first shot of the movie is of a Saharan town, children playing in a street to either side of which are hills covered with white adobe/brick buildings. David's light blue Land Rover enters the scene, clanking through a narrow street barely wider than his vehicle. David exits the Land Rover.
TITLE: JACK NICHOLSON
TITLE: MARIA SCHNEIDER
DAVID (to the person in blue stripes): Parlez Francais?
The shaky style of camera work gives a documentary feel to the intro, befitting David's profession as a reporter and video documentarian. David approaches a woman in a yellow dress seated in a doorway.
DAVID: Excuse me, ma'am, can you tell me where...
The camera pans left over a building with a blue shutter, to two boys running out of a narrow alley into the open, David's off-screen inquiry is lost in the somewhat tinny background noise of village life that prevails over the scene. One of the boys halts while the other, in a yellow shirt, continues right and out of the frame.
TITLE: in THE PASSENGER
2 MS David entering his vehicle.
The camera then returns to David climbing back into the Land Rover and driving off, the boy in the yellow shirt with a black band at the neck running alongside who, we will realize in the next couple of shots, is guiding him to his next destination. Beyond we see a landscape much like that which we will view at the film's end, palm trees and a distinctly conical hill.
The license plate number of the vehicle is something like A.5471. I only note this because this will later disappear.
TITLES: Original story by MARK PELOE, Screenplay by MARK PEPLOE, PETER WOLLEN and MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
3 LS of individuals seated on steps of a white earthen house, a palm tree in the fore partially blocking our view, splitting the screen in two.
The Land Rover enters another scene from the left, a cock crowing so we know it is morning light, not evening. At the moment, for all we know it could be yet another day, another domestic street scene of individuals sitting on a stoop.
We hear the click of the Land Rover's door, David emerging from his vehicle as a woman draped in red exits a door and sits on a set of steps with several others. The camera pans right showing the shadows of palms on the white brick facade of a building, the first, left, open door of which will turn out to be David's momentary destination.
TITLES: with JENNY RUNACRE
TITLES: and IAN HENDRY
4 MS from the interior of the building, its green door open on the street.
The shooting style is now less that of the documentary but the opening sensibility remains with us. We see a man in white with a white turban on the left, and another man on the right. David passes through the open green door into a room populated by a few men. The young boy in the yellow shirt, who has ushered him there, steps back into the street and out of sight. It is the same boy who had run up to David in the previous encounter so we know it is the same day, the same village, only minutes down the road, though outside the door we view, across the street, the few yards of a much more modern setting, two men seated before a modern building that appears to be of tan brick with glass windows, signs on the facade. If we take note of this building which one might a version of next to the grocery store at the local shopping center, we realize that not everything is as it seems, that the choice partial views of a documentarian create the landscape. As David will later say, people believe what he writes due their expectations and, even worse, what he writes arises of his own expectations. Truth is elusive.
We hear a sewing machine running, but don't yet know it's a sewing machine. A man in a white turban exits.
5 MS Man in a white turban at a sewing machine.
The individual who had been sewing also rises and silently exits, brushing past David without acknowledging him. Throughout this section the mood is of a somber isolation of David with his rarely receiving little more than a silent glance from any of the people he passes and with whom he comes into contact.
The blue shirt that we see hanging above the man with the sewing machine appears to be very much like the one David will later wear when he chooses to replace his identity with that of Robertson's.
6 MS David standing between the two remaining men who we had seen in shot 4.
One of the two remaining individuals gestures for a cigarette, the man on the left in the white turban. The man in the turquoise hat, having stood, gestures for David to direct his attention to the other man, the thumb or index finger of his right hand swathed in a white bandage. Receiving the cigarette, the turbaned man gestures for a match, cocks crowing.
The combination of the turquoise hat with the blue shirt recalls Thomas' drive to the antique shop and park in Blowup. Antonioni first took us through a neighborhood of red buildings then as we rounded the corner into the neighborhood of the park we were greeted with a blue building conspicuously painted with turquoise paint in what seemed a random fashion. Just as I earlier noted that there is a modern building across the street, the turquoise and blue in Blowup was used at a place where old neighborhood was being replaced with new, so as to make the area utterly unrecognizable.
7 CU David, from behind the man in the white turban.
We hear David lighting the man's cigarette...
8 CU the two men.
...with a lighter. The man with the cigarette stands.
9 MS the man in the white turban exiting and making a discreet gesture for David to follow.
No words have passed.
10 LS A village street through structures made of something like straw and gray earthen brick. A woman in black walks down the road toward the camera, the Land Rover driving up behind her, bumping its way along.
TITLES: a film by MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
The camera pans right as David drives into a clearing and exits the vehicle. Instead of remaining with him, the camera precedes him, panning left to a man seated before a straw background, a woman in a flowered dress approaching him with a blue enamel pot and cup.
11 MS of the man pouring liquid from the blue pot into the cup.
The man, without speaking, gestures for a cigarette and snaps his fingers urgently, as if irritated with David's slowness.
The camera pans up to David and the woman. David's growing frustration is clearly evident. This isn't the confidant photographer of Blow Up who we were shown at the beginning of that film as having successfully blended in with a number of men exiting a poor house, where he had spent the night in order to surreptitiously photograph the manner of life there. Who, wiping dirt off his face, then easily transitioned from the journalistic-art photographer to the domineering commercial fashion photographer.
12 MLS of David with the two individuals, from behind and over the top of his Land Rover.
Despite having long worked in Africa, David is instead clearly out of place, a foreign anglo in the Sahara, standing out both in appearance and manner, utterly isolated though surrounded by village life scenes, ever warily and circumspectly viewed.
We, too, are alienated, even somewhat disoriented. The cinematography distances us and the use of non-actors further cools the scenes.
The man and woman say nothing else to David, and he returns to his Land Rover. His frustration, however, is replaced by surprise, for he finds seated in it a young boy in a blue and red and white striped shirt who has has seemingly materialized out of nowhere. We didn't hear him enter the vehicle and we should have. The boy stares ahead, impassive, face in profile, not even glancing to David who gazes quizzically at him.
DAVID: Do you speak English? Vous parlons Francais?
When the boy doesn't reply, David simply starts driving again, trusting to be led...
13 MS of David and the boy from within the Land Rover.
...and as we see a woman robed in red before them passing left, and a boy in a blue shirt and red shorts to the right, he must ask the boy in the passenger's seat which way, the boy gesturing left, but never speaking.
DAVID: Which way? Left. Left.
As if he would teach the boy his language, English, when the boy only points left David emphatically instructs him that it is left.
14 LS of the vast desert.
Pan right to black rock hills, the Land Rover entering the frame. We view it from the rear as it continues on through the black rock.
15 LS vast desert with many tire tracks seen from behind David and the boy in the vehicle.
We are being taken further and further away from humanity.
16 LS A point in the desert where most vehicle tracks even u-turn rather than venturing further.
In the distance, beyond the distinct u-turn tracks of tires, we see a figure on a camel riding in from the black rock hills which have long since replaced the white and mud buildings of the village.
And low and behold the boy speaks, the camera panning to show the interior of the vehicle.
BOY: Stop. Stop.
17 LS the Land Rover from the front, stopping beside tire tracks.
When David stops the boy gets out and says something we don't catch and neither does David.
The boy again says something we don't understand and begins walking back on foot. Bewildered, David gets out.
DAVID: Where are you going?
The boy doesn't answer. This is his place of u-turn, just as with the so many of the tracks of vehicles in the sand.
18 LS from beside the Land Rover of the approaching camel rider.
We are given a view of more tire tracks leading into the desert but they are fewer and lighter.
Is this individual on the camel someone who David is intended to meet? We hear flies. David goes to the vehicle for a cap and water jug and sits in the shade of the rear of the vehicle to drink and wait.
19 MS of David sitting at the rear of the vehicle.
As the individual on the camel passes, David rises and waves at him. The individual on the camel looks at him but doesn't respond as he rides past and away, the camera following. David re-enters the frame to watch and drops his head in frustration.
20 Now a shot from up a hill, looking down on the individual on the camel as he rides out of view behind a distant outcropping of rock, and as he does so a man emerges from a twig and grass hut to the right of the camera.
The camera pans left to show the distant David looking up the hill, now noticing the hut and the man who has emerged from it. They silently regard each other.
21 MS David looking up at the man, waving away a buzzing fly.
22 MCU of the young man beside his hut.
23 We move still eeper into the desert. avid has left his Land Rover and is following the man from the hut on foot, slogging through the sand.
Though he now has a guide, again his frustration is evident.
DAVID: How long does it take to get to this place?
GUIDE: Oh, 12 hours, more or less.
Twelve hours. Did you absorb that? Twelve hours through the seering desert heat.
DAVID: What's there? Camp?
GUIDE: Yes, a sort of military camp.
"And how many people" David asks as they pass stones which seem to have distinct profiles, which I believe is not coincidental.
DAVID: And how many people?
GUIDE: They will tell you when we get there.
DAVID: Do they have arms?
GUIDE: They will tell you that, too, when we get there, everything.
We will eventually see that these profiles represent more than the real men in the desert with whom David is eager to connect.
This is intentional pareidolia. The location is the Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, which is noted not only for its pink sands and black rocks but for caves under the sands in which are prehistoric drawings dating from 10,000 BC to the beginning of the Common Era. Which is, to me, significant, that Antonioni chose this site where there are thousands of paintings committed over a period of some 10,000 years, from ancient art with magical purpose to the Cattle Period and a more documentary style. That this is a place renowned for its rock art provides a mystical heritage for the intentional pareidolia and, consequently, an association with the ancient people of the desert, though dialogue concerning the people of the desert gives, of course, the impression of seeking the guerillas. When we later see the paintings on the walls of David's hotel of a seeming hunt of bulls, one is to remember these paintings.
24 David and his guide are at the height of an outcropping of rock with a good view of the desert behind.
David stumbles. His guide halts and listens to the wind. We briefly hear a shift in its tone and the guide has David hide in the rock with him.
25 We see from far below on the left a caravan of seven camels enter the scene, the riders in military or police uniforms.
26 MCU of the guide and David.
David's guide briefly eyes him with a sense of resignation then mutely, with no explanation, no farewell, the wind now whistling around them, climbs over the rock, leaving David.
DAVID (whispering): No! No!
David, desperate, fearful of being left alone deep in the desert, anxious for his mission not to be aborted, whispers urgently, "No! No!" but the man doesn't doesn't react to David's frustration and despair.
27 MS of the camels with their military riders.
28 LS from below of David's guide climbing out of sight and away.
The camera pans back to David who, knowing his journey is over, helplessly strikes a rock.
29 Next shot, David's Land Rover is approaching us from the desert, on the barest vestige of road and seems to be going too fast, reckless even.
And just as we note this, the Land Rover passes and the camera follows to show it immediately mired in a sand dune to the right of the road.
30 MS from the front/side of the stuck vehicle spinning its tires.
31 CU of a rear tire spinning sand back into the desert, the spinning sand covering the vehicle's tracks.
It's a very meaningful shot, especially when we next see that the identification numbers on the license on the back of the vehicle are gone and all that is there is a blank black plate. David's identity is already lost and the dust thrown into the air by those spinning wheels will, miles away, cast a pall later.
DAVID (climbing out of his vehicle and striking it): Shit!
32 MS from the right of the vehicle as David rounds the front of it.
As far as one can see, he is surrounded by pink dunes the same color as his skin. He coughs with the wind whipping the sand in his face.
David has gotten a shovel and passed back around to the other side of the vehicle so we don't see him. Next, shovelfuls of sand are tossed to the left from behind the vehicle as he attempts to dig himself out.
33 David and the vehicle from behind.
It is impossible. David beats the Land Rover with his shovel.
34 David from the right of the vehicle, rounding the front again. He beats it one more time.
DAVID (falling to his knees, yelling): All right! I don't care!
35 MS from behind the vehicle of David grovelling in the sand beside it, sobbing.
He leans against the vehicle. The camera pans right over the pink wasteland, the only answer being the howling wind. The black rock of the earlier desert scenes is convivial in comparison, a relief from the endless, disparaging sand dunes.
David makes it out of this pink waste, he will be shown as having done so, but for all intents and purposes, this is the death of David Locke. One can well imagine that this too may be when David Robertson, back at the hotel, also dies.
36 LS of David walking toward the camera down a road leading into a village from the desert.
Next shot, David is walking down a village street at the edge of the desert, a woman in black walking toward him on the right, a man in white lying asleep on the sand outside a building.
37 MS of David, near collapse, passing the woman. He walks out of the frame to the right.
38 MLS of David approaching a building that reads Hotel-Restaurant-Bar.
39 MS from within the building's lobby of the yellow doors through which David, about to enter, can be viewed beyond flowered curtains.
A man behind the registration desk is working with perhaps some electric circuitry. We see the registration counter has tile that is broken white chips on black. I note this because we will see it echoed later, just as we will see the buildings of the village echoed in later scenes.
David slams the door open and passes through through the blue lobby. On its rear wall we see a painting of huts in a veritable Eden of green grass and trees, and a figure pointing to the right, in the direction of which some bulls are running.
40 MS of David entering a blue hall.
On his way to his room he asks an employee for water.
EMPLOYEE: Yes, sir.
David unlocks the double yellow doors to his room and slams them shut behind him.
41 CU of beetles climbing a white electrical cord from a lamp switch.
Now a close-up of a painted white twined electrical cord, a number of black beetles making their way up it, reminding perhaps of the camels winding their way through the desert. But before we can see where the cord leads (the camera travelling up), there's a knock on the door.
DAVID (off camera): Come in.
The camera pans to an employee entering not just with water but a bottle of Gordon's Dry Gin for David.
EMPLOYEE: Monsieur, your drink.
DAVID (off screen): Thank you. Put it on the table.
EMPLOYEE: Yes, sir.
David, who is in the bathroom running his shower, calls out there is no soap. The reply is simply, "No, sir" and the individual who delivered the tray leaves the room.
DAVID: There's no soap.
EMPLOYEE: No, sir.
42 MCU of David before the running shower, irritatedly glancing back.
DAVID: No, sir.
43 MS David in his room drinking the water.
David exits his room, the water still running in his shower. Out of sight, in the hall, he knocks on another door, calling, "Robertson!" Presumably, he's gone to look for soap...from the only individual in this village who will talk to him.
From inside Robertson's room, we see David entering.
The loud whir of the fan in Robertson's room partially drowns out the sound of David's shower. David leans down to shake someone out of frame.
45 MS of David standing beside an orange-blanketed bed on which is sprawled, face down, another man in white pants, wearing no shirt. A small chess set with red and white pieces to his side.
Robertson is dead. David has gone for soap and instead found a corpse. David looks around, bewildered. He shuts the door behind him.
46 MS David.
David steps over to the side of the bed opposite the door and begins to turn over the body. The camera cuts as he reaches down and grasps an arm.
47 MS Shot as in 45 of the body on the bed and David turning the body over.
There's perhaps a problem with continuity, for the game board is now by the dead man's feet rather than his arms. Or it may not be a problem with continuity. Perhaps Antonioni planned it this way. With his being flipped to his back, the upper body of the dead man lies where the chess set had been. David positions him in the center of the bed.
48 MS David sitting beside Robertson, contemplates what to do.
49 CU from behind David.
An open door beyond leads to Robertson's bathroom. Or so it seems and that perhaps he too had been running water for it looks like a shower area may be filled with water and a shower curtain breezing above it.
David turns and pulls out from under the covers, between Robertson's legs, Robertson's appointment book. We hear the sound of a flute.
50 CU shot beginning as shot 49, showing the open door beyond, but with David turned toward the camera.
51 We now have a medium shot of Robertson's face and note a vague resemblance to David.
The lone sound of the flute continues. As David leans down to look in Robertson's eyes, it is less like looking at a dead individual than at another stony unresponsive face, one that enigmatically mirrors his own. David touches Robertson's thinning hair.
52 A shuttered window with plastic flowered curtains.
David goes to the window and opens it, the flute continuing.
53 Exterior shot of David opening the green shutters.
The flute music now seems to come from outside. The camera pans right over a veranda, beyond which stretch the pink sands of the desert spotted with abbreviated stumps of greenery through which goats wander.
54 MCU a chair with a blue shirt over it and a rust-colored leather bag hanging from the top rail.
The camera pans right to David's open suitcase and his belongings. Belt, wallet, lighter etc. Brown suit coat. Shirts. The briefest gleam of a gun atop a white shirt with black stripes and beneath a green one.The gun is not noticed.
55 MCU David's hand picking up David's keys.
56 MCU David picking up Robertson's passport.
57 MS of Robertson lying on the bed.
58 David looking through Robertson's passenger ticket book. We have a glimpse of David's watch which appears to read 12:35.
59 CU of the passenger ticket book which has written on its front, "Munich, Box 58".
Okay, it seems Antonioni has done the same thing here as in Blowup. In Blowup, Thomas arrived at his house in shots 37-39, his house number showing prominently, which was 39. Here, on the cover of the passenger ticket book is the box number, 58, which will be pivotal in David's life. And we first observe the passenger ticket book, on which the number is written, in shots 58 and 59.
60 MS of David's hand pausing over the gun in Robertson's belongings.
The gun is much more evident than it was in shot 43, its barrel sticking further out, as if, in response to David going through Robertson's things and seeing the Munich notation on the ticket book, it has decided Robertson's work should continue and that David is the one to take over for him. David picks it up.
61 MCU of David from below.
We hear him drop the gun back in the suitcase as he looks over at Robertson in some shock and consternation.
Robertson, in death, is now more than he had seemed. He may perhaps be even a door into a world David has been endeavouring to enter.
62 MS of David standing before Robertson's yellow door, a single one rather than double, Robertson's head and upper torso also in the frame.David takes one of Robertson's cigarettes, contemplating the situation, lights it.
63 MS through Robertson's bathroom door of him lying on the bed.
David picks up the blue shirt of Robertson's.
64 CU Jack smoking. He looks up at the ceiling fan over Robertson's head, the camera focusing only on that ceiling fan...
...and as the camera pans back down we now see David wears Robertson's shirt.
65 MS through Robertson's bathroom door as in shot 63, David in the foreground standing beside the phone. He has to think twice before making the phone call that will start him on his new road and sever him from his past. He picks up the receiver.
DAVID: Yes, I want to inquire about flights.
DESK: There are only two flights in the week. The next flight is in three days.
66 MS now of the manager or proprietor on the phone, leaning to turn off a water tap running in a sink behind him.
DAVID: All right.
David had left the water running in his shower. There was water running, it seemed, in Robertson's shower. David, as he sets out to acquire Robertson's identity, calls the desk, and the manager or proprietor turns and cuts off a running tap of water behind him. It's a curious thing for the other two taps become tied together in the tap the employee cuts off, ending our concern with the water in these scenes. We needn't be shown the other two taps being cut off as they are now silenced.
67 MS in the hall of David leaving Robertson's room, entering his own and closing the door.
68 CU of a ceiling fan.
This fan could just as well be Robertson's, but for the fact the ceiling above it is not flat but is instead composed of arches.
The camera pans down to David sitting at the table in his room, the blue shirt off and hung up above his suitcase. His hair is wet. He has showered. Some time has passed for we see passports on his table and some glue.
69 CU David's passport photo with a British stamp. The camera pans left to show Robertson's passport photo with its British stamp.
70 MS from in front of David of him looking over the passports, the red nozzle of the glue bottle separating them visually in the frame. We hear a knock on the door. David looks up.
We hear David's voice though he is on screen, not talking.
DAVID (voice over): Come in.
We hear a door click.
ROBERTSON (voice over): Sorry to barge in like this.
71 CU of David picking up a razor and beginning to shave his passport photo out of his book.
ROBERTSON (voice over): I saw your lights on. I thought you might like a drink.
DAVID (voice over): Oh, yes, come in. I saw you on the plane.
72 CU of David laboring over the photo.
DAVID (voice over): I'll get some glasses.
ROBERTSON (voice over): My name's Robertson. David Robertson. First time I've been in this part of Africa.
We hear drinks being poured.
ROBERTSON (voice over): Do you know it well?
DAVID (voice over): No, I've never been up here before. I'm a reporter. My name's Locke.
ROBERTSON (voice over): Not David Locke?
DAVID (voice over): Yes.
The camera has panned down now to David separating his photo from the passport, we only now aware of his name, of Robertson's name, and that the two share the same first name.
ROBERTSON (voice over): I've often read your pieces. I'm very glad to meet you. Are you down here for a story?
DAVID (voice over): I'm putting some material together. Pieces of film for a documentary on Africa. I'm finished now, thank God, or almost finished.
David puts aside his photo.
73 MS of David's tape recorder sitting on a red chair.
So it becomes clear that it wasn't just in a flashback we were hearing the conversation. Instead, it was recorded by David and he is listening as he works on separating himself from his life and picking up Robertson's.
ROBERTSON (voice over): What more do you need?
DAVID (voice over): I'd like to make contact with the guerillas.
The camera pans over to David in a MCU from the rear. His back is pouring sweat as he continues laboring over the passport books.
DAVID (voice over): Everybody knows they're fighting up here now. They just arrested some farmers. I suppose you heard about it.
ROBERTSON (voice over): Yes.
DAVID (voice over): Anyway, I must've taken a wrong trail.
ROBERTSON (voice over): There aren't very many around here.
DAVID (voice over): But you're not a journalist as well, are you?"
David, listening, looks to the left, slightly nods. The camera pans left back over the tape recorder. David looks up, to the left. Toward what? We assume he's looking back in his memory.
ROBERTSON (voice over): No, no. I'm here on business.
DAVID: Business? In a godforsaken place like this.
ROBERTSON: Well, I've been in so many places the last few years. It doesn't make any difference any more.
And now we do seem to move into a flashback, for the previous taped conversation had begun with Robertson noting he had seen David's light on. But the with Robertson that will now take place is held during the day. The camera has continued panning left over David's open window, showing his veranda beyond, and Robertson now entering the veranda from the right in his blue shirt and leaning against a wall, looking over the desert, his back to the camera, he reflected in the left window. David now also enters from the right, dressed in his plaid shirt, and his reflection supplants Robertson's in the left window.
Some sort of face, looking like the face of a mask, though it isn't, is reflected in the right windowpane. This is noticed but then it's seen that it is instead a reflection of the white patio wall and it seems to be moving, because the window is gently moving, even as Robertson remarks how beautiful the landscape is to Locke. They stand on the patio, the camera continuing to peer out the window on them.
ROBERTSON: Beautiful, don't you think so?
DAVID: Beautiful. I don't know.
ROBERTSON: So still. A kind of, waiting.
DAVID: You seem unusually poetic for a businessman.
ROBERTSON (finally facing the camera): Do I? Doesn't the desert have the same effect on you?
DAVID: No. I prefer men to landscapes.
ROBERTSON: There are men who live in the desert.
And with that, it's time to consider again the white mask-like face, composed of shadows in plaster, that can be seen in the window on the right.
Below is a detail of the white mask-like face that we observe throughout the conversation.
The white face in the plaster wall is purposeful. We are reminded of the black stone faces in the desert by this white plaster face here at the edge of the desert. We are reminded of all the faces which did not talk to Locke but looked past him, ever beyond him, unresponsive to him. Locke's saying he prefers men to landscapes, and Robertson's reply that there are men who live in the desert are signs pointing to these faces. It is an intentional pareidolia, cooberated by the dialogue ("There are men who live in the desert") just as back in the desert we could discern faces in the rock as David asked about the people in the desert, how many there were. And did they have arms? The people, it was said, who would tell him everything.
Not yet, they don't have arms, at least not in these images.
74 MCU of another window with a curtain of flowers, David opening a door and he and Robertson entering from the veranda.
DAVID: Any family?
ROBERTSON: No, no family. No friends. Just a few commitments, including a bad heart. I really shouldn't be drinking. How about another one? (Laughs.)
Relationships and family are often associated with flowers in this film.
DAVID (getting glasses from a shelf): Why not? And now what?
ROBERTSON: Oh, I'll continue on around the world, I expect. I'm a globetrotter. I take life as it comes.
We hear water running seemingly in a sink, David getting the drinks.
ROBERTSON: It's different for you, isn't it.
DAVID: Yes. It's different.
ROBERTSON: Still, you must've been around quite a bit yourself.
DAVID: Yes, I suppose so.
The camera pans left and shows David, in the present, viewed through the open bathroom door (the entrance to David's veranda in his bathroom it seems), sitting at his table, working on the passports. He looks over at the tape recorder. He is listening, it seems, to this conversation which Antonioni is presenting as all of one piece, though this is unlikely. As noted above, the first part of the conversation began likely at night. And the part on the patio is unlikely to have been recorded as they were not in the same room as the recorder. Flashback blending with taped conversation.
ROBERTSON (voice over): How about Umbugbene? I bet you've never been to Umbugbene.
75 MCU of David from his left.
DAVID (voice over, laughing): No.
ROBERTSON (voice over): Terrible place. Airports, taxi, hotel, they're all the same in the end.
DAVID (voice over): I don't agree. It's us who remain the same. We translate every situation, every experience into the same old codes, we just condition ourselves.
ROBERTSON (voice over): We're creatures of habit. That's what you mean.
DAVID (voice over): Something like that. I mean, however hard you try it stays so difficult to get away from your own habits. Even the way we talk to these people, the way we treat them...
The camera has panned down to show in CU David has shaved both photos.
76 MCU of David from his right.
DAVID (voice over): ...it's mistaken. I mean, how do you get their confidence? Do you know?
ROBERTSON (laughing, voice over): Well, it's like this Mr. Locke. You work with words, images, fragile things. I come with merchandise, concrete things. They understand me straightaway.
The camera pans down to show David putting glue in the passport book.
And on one level the story is about Locke's problems as a journalist and Robertson's relationship as a gun runner with the guerrillas but there is another level here and it has nothing to do with a country as a political unit and the strife within it. Instead there is a spiritual-psychic level, on one's understanding of self, one's comprehension of nature, of the environment. There is something even more mysterious than the story of the gunrunner...and Locke is wondering how to build a dialogue with it, to gain its confidence...as if how to make the men who live in the desert speak.
DAVID (voice over): Yes. Maybe.
ROBERTSON: London, I think. Then Munich perhaps. No real reason, just thought I'd check up on some of the old places. I haven't been in London for three years now.
The camera having panned back to the tape recorder, David reaches in the frame and cuts it off.
77 The hall. David backs into it from Robertson's room.
He is dragging Robertson's body, and as he enters the hall he first peeks into it, sees the lobby door open slightly, and he ducks back into the alcove leading to Robertson's room. The door closes. Quickly, he drags Robertson in through his open door and closes it.
With much exertion he gets Robertson on the bed then returns and closes Robertson's door. He stops and leans against the light switch...on which are the black beetles, frozen in place. Earlier, we saw them moving about on the cord. Antonioni really wanted those beetles to remain there for he has it so we see them still on the cord. It doesn't matter if they are fake and frozen in place. Indeed, he may have wanted them frozen in place just like that.
78 MS A book to the side of the bed, on the floor.
We see to the side of the bed a book on the floor, Robertson/Locke's dead hand hanging above it. The book is Eugene Marais' The Soul of the Ape with a red skull-like cover.
I've not read the book but below are a couple of paragraphs I find on it.
Marais began writing Soul of the Ape in 1916, but never finished it. It was published posthumously years later. His theory was that, unlike termites, baboons -- and by extension all primates -- had the ability to memorise the relationship between cause and effect. They could therefore vary their behaviour voluntarily. While termites were instinctive, the mind of baboons was based on "causal memory". The reason for this difference, according to Marais, was natural selection.
According to him, natural selection was not, like Darwin had insisted, the survival of the fittest, but rather the line of least resistance. Those species best able to adapt to their specific environment survived, while those not able to, would become extinct. Natural selection, therefore, had the tendency to both localise and specialise species.
Marais also wrote a book titled, The Soul of the White Termite or Ant.
I've gone into all this at some length in my analysis on Zabriskie Point, both the artificial pareidolia and David Locke's assuming Robertson's identity. A reason the books by Marais are important is that Marais' writing was plagiarized by another author, so he was a person whose identity was, in a sense, assumed and confused with another, just as we have Locke taking Robertson's identity. A reason I write at length about this in the analysis on Zabriskie Point is that many of the ideas happening here also occur there. In Blowup as well, for Blowup opened with Thomas passing himself off as a poor person in order to enter a doss house and get photos. In Zabriskie Point, I propose that Mark assumed for himself a mask persona, that he was actually an FBI instigator/informant who crossed-over and became his mask persona. Just as we have David Locke who will cross over and become David Robertson.
The camera pans up from the book to show David now on that side of the bed, putting on the old Robertson's watch.
79 CU of a a woman on a book, the title of which partly reads "...de Lumumba (?) aux colonels".
Lumumba was an anti-colonial leader who was executed in 1961 after the deposition of his government.
It is curious that the photo of Locke's wife rests upon this particular book.
80 Extreme CU of the photo of Locke's wife.
81 MCU of David from his right bending as if to look at the photo.
We see the electric cord beyond and that there are no longer any beetles on it.
One would expect him to pause upon the photo of a woman so close to him, who belongs to a life he's leaving behind and so he must leave her as well, too, and put her through, presumably, some grief...unless there's not much to grieve over.
Rather than looking at the photo he instead picks up the bookThe Soul of the Ape and walks to the door. It is the only thing of his own that he takes with him.
82 Cut to David from behind, at the door, viewed across Robertson's body which now occupies his bed.
He takes a last look and leaves the room, having assumed Robertson's identity.
Do they really look that much alike, David Locke and David Robertson? Not very. Are we supposed to consider this, how slim is the resemblance shared between these two men, not just in appearance but their voices and mannerisms? Locke is recounted several times in the movie as being an exceptionally good observer. Though we are supposed to take from the film that Locke learns he communicates not so much what it is there but his own opinion, we shouldn't take this to mean he hasn't any power of objective perception at all. He should be aware of how little he looks like Robertson, a problem Antonioni frankly presents the viewer as we see Robertson lying on the bed in Locke's clothing, that any amount of resemblance they bear is only superficial.
83 The employee at the front desk.
He is preparing to go to a room with a bucket of ice and a glass, but we hear David enter and he stops.
EMPLOYEE: Yes, sir.
DAVID: There's a gentleman in number 11. He's dead.
The employee calls over the individual who mans the registration desk, presumably the owner or manager.
84 The manager, seated in the lobby, stands and goes to the desk.
Again, we see a mural of men and animals painted on the wall, a hunting scene, reminding of rock paintings, men pursuing bulls, paintings which are not simply decorative.
I read that Antonioni chose the hotel where the final concluding scene of the movie takes place because it was once a church and was located across from a bull ring. At least that's what I have read, and I think of the old myth of the bull, the maze, why would Antonioni want the final scene of the movie to take place across from a bull ring...*
MANAGER: Mr. Locke?
MANAGER (nodding his head and stepping behind the registration counter): Oh, of course. The man in number 11.
There was a moment of confusion. Is the manager asking if David is Locke? Or is he asking if it is Locke who has died, who occupied number 11. David responds as though he's asking if he is Locke.
MANAGER: And I believe he is...
DAVID: Locke. David Locke.
Note the photo on the wall behind, of the country's political leader. Note too a painting of a landscape that is not on canvas but directly on the wall. It is curious. The sky of the painting is the blue of the wall, is the wall, but the rest of the landscape, its rock, the land, is painted on the wall. Not that this is peculiar for a mural but it's an interesting choice for Antonioni to have made.
The manager opens the registration book.
MANAGER: Yes, exactly.
DAVID: He was a newspaper man, I think.
MANAGER: This is most unfortunate. There is no doctor now, and no flight for another three day. What can we do with him, Mr. Robertson?
David shrugs his shoulders uncertainly.
DAVID: I, I'll be outside.
The employee who brought David his water looks like he's not quite believing all this.
85 LS of David standing outside beside a large tree, looking over the desert, smoking.
The camera pans right over four children playing, and then the manager who is with a policeman looking for him.
MANAGER: Mr. Robertson! Mr. Robertson!
DAVID (off screen): Yes!
86 Low shot from behind David of him seated beside the tree on a rock wall.
The manager and policeman enter from screen left.
MANAGER: He's dead, Mr. Robertson.
DAVID: What are you going to do?
MANAGER: We send the body in the city. The heat, you know. We think have to get done very quickly here.
87 MCU David from 3/4 view.
MANAGER: There are regulations. Is very sad.
MANAGER: Do you know if Mr. Locke was a religious man? We have a Catholic mission near here. Do you think?
DAVID: I'm sure that will do very well.
The camera pans right to the policeman and the manager.
THE POLICEMAN (nodding): Yeah.
* And a couple of minutes later in walks my son with a game, a maze he's made, and he shows it off to me proudly, and talks about the picture he's made for the background of the maze, that it is Gaul, and that one makes their way through the maze to find their way to this Gaul, the Ape King.