Monday, October 29, 2012

Zabriskie Point

Even if not for Antonioni himself, Zabriskie Point would be a shame to miss for Daria Halprin’s voluptuous beauty: which, surprisingly, seems to have been a neglected feature given how the film is universally panned. Her male counterpart, Mark Frechette, also doesn’t do a bad job: and slips in his role with perfect ease, particularly since Frechette’s own life paralleled the role he’s playing in the film. It’s an irony of sorts though that director Antonioni has apparent sympathies placed in no camp: rather, from consumerism to the hippie movement and the counter-culture that swept through America in the ‘60s, he views all of that as nothing more – and nothing less – than a product of ennui, that has usurped human lives once belief disintegrated or decayed.

Zabriskie Point is a continuation of the exploration of the modern condition by the master director: and he does so brilliantly well, using the locales of Mojave desert in a stunning manner (Antonioni would once again situate human barrenness in desolate landscapes in The Passenger, to be written about later). In the tight canvas of the film, there is no hope anywhere: except in inviting death. Antonioni’s films have always been analyses of the decadence of the Western society, but here for the first time he is crisper, more concrete: a specific society, a specific time and a specific location. The desert orgy scene is brilliantly conceived, though I could have wished for more extras: how the anti-establishment wave would soon transform into free sex, free love and little more. Antonioni gives no clue in the film itself whether he views it as degeneration or celebration, which makes the film reach a greater height. It is as if a dispassionate analysis, an observation of all that is happening: the viewer who can think is free to draw his or her own conclusions.

The film raises fearful questions, just as Dostoyevsky did with The Devils. Today’s Western, in particular American, society has many of these hippies in the role of the older adults; today’s West has consumerism and counter-establishment as its God and Devil, whichever side one may choose – as its genesis. To where does one go from here? Technology has enabled man to forget his moral chasm: till when can this be supported? Till what time will a myriad of games, from philosophies to gadgets, keep diverting man away from his basic inability to love and to believe? Until when can man make himself forget that he’s now contented to be a coward?

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