Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jennie Runacre, Ian Hendry,
A penetrating political thriller, The Passenger, set in the Sahara, is also a desert film, and it resembles the much earlier L’avventura—a desert island film—with its horizontal vistas and its theme of absence. Jack Nicholson portrays a London journalist named Locke who, sent to cover a rebellion in North Africa, assumes the identity of a man, Robertson, who has died in the next hotel room. Locke is running away from being a journalist—from the codes that replace knowing, the images that replace seeing. He’s much like Monica Vitti’s Vittoria in L’eclisse in his desire for escape, for a mask. But, embracing Robertson’s globetrotting, increasingly mysterious persona, he finds himself pursuing not the man’s life, but his death. Even the camera seems to have a will toward another world: it distractedly tracks a passing camel in the desert, an anachronistic horse-drawn carriage in Munich. The film’s famous final seven-minute zoom literally draws out the pain of seeing in focus.