David Locke: ...every time you leave the room.
The Passenger (Italian title Professione: Reporter) is a 1975 film by Michelangelo Antonioni, starring Jack Nicholson as David Locke, Maria Schneider (of Last Tango in Paris fame) as The Girl, and Jenny Runacre as David's wife.
This film depicts a disaffected television journalist David Locke who working in Africa, implied to be Chad, meets a certain David Robertson, a man of obscure occupations but is later revealed to be an Arms Dealer providing weapons to rebels. When the latter dies Locke assumes his identity, and exchanges his with his. This means that for the rest of the world, David Locke the Reporter is dead, while David Robertson still lives and is wanted by authorities to question him about the mysterious death of a reporter and journalist.
Despite his misgivings, such as the fact that Robertson is regularly paid lavish sums, he is regarded as a comrade by some rebels, and the fact that he's selling weapons, he starts embracing his role, simply because he doesn't want to go back to his old life. Locke travels in Europe, on his way he meets The Girl who becomes his loyal sidekick. Following on from the effects of the dead man, Locke goes to Spain. David's wife, meanwhile, burdened by guilt and grief, starts looking for "Robertson", while the African government who is opposed by the rebels Locke has now cast his lot with wants to hunt him down as well.
- Chekhov's Gunman: We first see The Girl on a park bench in London, long before Locke meets her in Barcelona.
- Didn't Think This Through: When Locke finds Robertson dead of a heart attack in his hotel room, he impulsively decides to swap identities with him, as he is dissatisfied with his career and his wife has been cheating on him with a colleague. However, he gets more than he bargained for when he discovers that Robertson is an Arms Dealer, and although he has Robertson's suitcase and personal effects (including an appointment book), he doesn't know any of the latter's associates (two of whom are confused when "Robertson" walks straight past them without a second glance in Munich) or how to complete his existing deals (he's happy to take the first payment but gives no thought to how to actually deliver the promised weapons). Knowing he can't keep up the charade, he decides to take the money and run, but when Locke's wife, Rachel, gets his personal effects and finds Robertson's photo in her husband's passport, she asks the Spanish police to help her find "Robertson" to ask him about her husband's final moments, and he has left an easy trail for them to follow. And like all arms dealers, Robertson has powerful enemies who want him dead...
- Epic Tracking Shot: The famous penultimate shot in the film is a classic example that goes on for over six minutes. We see Locke lying on his hotel bed smoking, then the camera slowly zooms toward the bars over his window as we see a car pull up carrying the two Chadian hitmen who have been tailing Locke (thinking he is Robertson), while the Girl wanders aimlessly around the town square to kill some time. The camera then passes through the bars and rotates around the square as we see a police car arrive, followed by a second, this one with Locke's wife Rachel in the back. The police question the hotel manager, and the camera pans across to an exterior view of the Girl in her room, trying to open the connecting door to Locke's room, then to a view of the police, Rachel, and eventually the Girl finding Locke dead on his bed.
- Faking the Dead: When Locke decides to swap identities with Robertson after finding the latter dead in his hotel room from a heart attack, he sends word back to London as "Robertson" that Locke is the one who died of a heart attack.
- The Hero Dies: Locke gets killed by people who assumed he was Robertson.
- Job Title: Professione: Reporter, the Italian title. David Locke is the titular reporter who drops his profession because he is fed up with his life.
- Killed Offscreen: Locke's assassination takes place off-screen while the camera is busy capturing the events outside the hotel.
- Meaningful Name: Locke is a famous English 17th-century philosopher.
- Mockstery Tale: The film imitates the stylistics of a thriller road movie (a stolen identity, political intrigues, car chases, a young mysterious girl, etc.), but is actually a story of a depressed journalist trying to start a new life.
- Moral Luck: Locke decides he wants to leave his old life behind, and takes on the identity of Robertson, an acquaintance who has just died. As it turns out, Robertson was an arms dealer running guns to rebel forces in north Africa, so that's what he starts doing. The overall point of the film seems to be a nihilistic one: it doesn't really matter what one does in life, and one shouldn't be bound by social roles or expectations. However, it's clear that the audience is supposed to sympathise with the rebels whom Robertson is supporting. So while Locke appears not to care about the social consequences of his actions, he is still doing something good or at least something not evil. It would be harder to see this character as heroic if he were running guns to neo-Nazis or the Taliban even though he could just as easily have found himself doing just that!
- Most Writers Are Writers: Locke is very obviously a reporter, a television-journalist and a documentary film-maker. The film Antonioni made before The Passenger was a documentary in Mao's China during the Cultural Revolution.
- No Name Given: Maria Schneider character is credited as "The Girl".
- One Steve Limit: Subverted. Both the protagonist Locke and Robertson, the man whose identity he assumes, are called "David".
- The Oner: The Epic Tracking Shot at the end is more than six minutes long.
- Put on a Bus: David does this to The Girl near the end. Subverted as soon they meet again.
- Red Shirt: David Locke wears the one in the last scene. He is murdered in the end,
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The protagonist assumes the identity of a stranger, walks in his shoes for a couple of days and is then shot. No Antagonist, no Character Development, no resolution.
- Sidekick: The Girl to David.