This is a beautifully shot film and, although I saw it first in 1975 or 1976, I could remember much of the film’s ending when I saw it at GOMA [Not the city in the Congo but the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane] in May 2008, some 33 years later.
The second last scene was shot in a single take of about 7 minutes and then later the ‘hotel de la gloria’ was shown in the twilight as the credits ran. I have included this scene below (see YouTube picture at the end of this article).
After seeing the film I was told that it was Patricio Lumumber’s actual death that was shown in this film, a grave and harrowing execution by firing squad of an African leader in the Congo, assassinated by colonialists and their puppets.
Lumumba, the only leader ever democratically elected in Congo, was delivered to his enemies, tortured and summarily executed. Since then, his country has been looted by the U.S.-supported regime of Mobutu Sese Seko and wracked by regional and civil war. – http://africawithin.com/lumumba/murder_of_lumumba.htm
De Witte argues in The Assassination of Lumumba that the United States and Western Europe, fearing that the former Belgian colony would turn to the Soviets following independence, were complicit in plotting Lumumba’s assassination.
Alongside this harrowing scene, Antonioni mapped the film’s main theme of identity.
The following comments require some knowledge of the plot and the characters in the film (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passenger_(film) .
Someone asked was ‘the girl’* actually the wife (lover?) of the real Mr. Robertson, a shadowy arms dealer in the Congo?
If not, how was she able to convince the manager of the last hotel where they stayed that she was Mrs. Robertson if she didn’t have some sort of identification papers?
Why did the manager say to Nicholson when he arrived at the hotel ‘I’ve already seen your passport’ if the girl hadn’t been able to show him some sort of identity?
I am told that is the question, the great conundrum. And asked what is the answer?
During the film I thought ‘The Girl’ (played by Maria Schneider) was the ‘Daisy’ mentioned in Roberston’s diary and the girl was sitting reading on the bench in London at the place and time when Robertson had an appointment with ‘Daisy’ (and for a variety of other reasons) … Locke thought ‘Daisy’ was code for the rebels who wished to buy guns from Robertson.
However, to me, the film is about identity, so I think Antonioni left this question open.
He allowed Locke to assume another identity on Robertson’s death but would not permit the new Locke to return to the Robertson persona when the government agents killed Locke.
Having escaped his own identity there was no way back even through death. His wife denied she knew him, he had never revealed himself to her so his identity was lost.
Also ‘the girl’ who declared that she knew him in the scene below him.
This same ‘Girl’ may have been a ‘judas’ because she seemed to know the government agents and may have cried in remorse for dobbing him in to the thugs who eventually killed him.
For those that are wondering the title refers to the Locke/Roberston character played by Jack Nicholson even though he did nearly all the driving in the film. Apparently Schneider, then aged 19, could not drive. She does drive off in the car once … but this may have been a double?
* no name was ever given to ‘the girl’ played by Maria SchneiderReferences
The Assassination of Lumumba BR 14242 by Ludo de Witte 4 volumes
Examination of the 1961 murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first prime minister, and its political complexities. De Witte argues that the United States and Western Europe, fearing that the former Belgian colony would turn to the Soviets following independence, were complicit in plotting Lumumba’s assassination. Some strong language. 2001.