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Film / Zabriskie Point

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Poster by Milton Glaser

Zabriskie Point is a drama film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. The screenplay was written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe and playwright and actor, Sam Shepard, with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. It premiered on February 5, 1970.

The film is set primarily in Southern California, dealing with two parallel plots that eventually intersects in the course of the story. In Los Angeles, Mark (Mark Frechette) is a student and budding campus radical bored with endless student discussions about activism and revolutionary agitation and seeks to commit some form of action or another. The end result leads to a confrontation with the police where Mark might or might not have killed a cop, but as a result of this action, he becomes a fugitive and goes on the lam, choosing to abscond on a small aeroplane. The second plot deals with Daria (Daria Halprin) a young woman who works for a real estate firm and is driving through the desert towards Phoenix, much to the perplexity of her boss Lee Allen (Rod Taylor) who is also her lover. Allen is currently pitching a vast real estate expansion across California and is anxious for Daria's company. Eventually Mark and Daria come across each other in their travel across the desert, starting a journey of mutual self-discovery or self-delusion, depending on the pot they are smoking.

The film was inspired by a true-life incident of a young man stealing an aircraft for a joyride and was inspired by other aspects of the sixties' counterculture. It is notable for its extensive location shooting in the Downtown Los Angeles area, prominently featuring the Richfield Tower art-deco building before its destruction, in Death Valley (albeit not the titular Zabriskie Point) and in Carefree Arizona. Its cast of non-actors includes actual hippies and activists including Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panthers. In addition to the score by Pink Floyd, the film's soundtrack features a number of songs from The Grateful Dead, The Youngbloods, Kaleidoscope, The Rolling Stones (Band) and John Fahey, while Roy Orbison sang the end-credits song "So Young".

Come in Troper 51, Your Time is Up:

  • Anti-Hero: The protagonist Mark is Nominal or a Villain Protagonist depending on your political sympathies. He's a misguided protestor at best and a terrorist at worst.
  • Author Appeal: Architecture, landscapes, and flying scenes appeals to a lot of stuff that Antonioni liked and featured in his earlier films.
  • Big Fancy House: The desert retreat of Lewis Allen and the other real-estate guys in Arizona at the end is a compound with swimming pool and other amenities directly carved into the rock, a la Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Mark is implied to be fairly rich. He runs into his sister driving a fancy car in one brief scene, and he likewise is a very good pilot, skills that are not easy to come by. His crazy and desperate actions comes from him trying to prove his street cred. He also invokes the bourgeois part of the trope for his advantage notably he uses his white male privilege to buy guns without any security checks simply by noting the threat of "Mexicans" which the owner readily accepts when selling said weapons to him.
  • Buzzing the Deck: Mark the douchetard scares the bejesus out of Daria by buzzing low over her plane while she's driving on the highway.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Much of the film's cinematography deals with the omnipresence of this in America, from the giant billboards, advertising, the display in the malls and the tacky and insipid proposed commercials for the real estate project that Allen's company wants to install. The finale likewise focuses on the destruction of all the household objects in the house, which is played as a kind of liberation.
  • Death Seeker: Mark. In the opening session, the crucial question of "who is willing to die" (for the cause) comes up. Mark is the first to volunteer, and leaves soon after. Serves as a foreshadowing as well.
  • Imagine Spot: Both of the film's notorious sequences:
    • The famous orgy in the Death Valley where Mark and Daria arrive at the valley and start having sex in the mud, followed by a bunch of other young boys and girls frolicking in the valley. We don't see those other kids before or after.
    • After leaving the desert compound in disgust, Daria gives a look back that gradually gives over to an extended fantasy of seeing the entire compound along with every single object in the house destroy itself in detail.
  • Long Last Look: Used for dramatic and climactic effect. Daria walks out of the compound and gives a Death Glare to the entire compound and the film then visualizes her fantasy of the entire estate exploding in excruciating, infinitesimal, detail, and at the end of it, she smiles contentedly and gets into her car and drives away.
  • Meet Cute: One of the most elaborate and bizarre, where Mark's plane flying over the California Desert sees Daria's car driving below and he joyrides closer-and-closer in a series of stunts that leads her to stop the car and for Mark to land the plane.
  • The Mistress: Daria is one for her boss, Lewis Allen, albeit she's not happy about the relationship and how the latter treats her as a trophy. This leads to her connection with Mark despite being a runaway and fugitive as she fully knows, and after hearing on the radio about his death, she walks out of the compound but not before imagining the entire place destroying in a fiery apocalyptic explosion.
  • Police Brutality: The cops are shown from the perspective of the activists and come of as highly unsympathetic, stupid (such as not knowing who Karl Marx is), and of course highly trigger-happy. Notably in the scene of the showdown between the cops and Mark's group of terrorists, after forcing them to step out with tear gas, they shoot the African-American protestor who they feel is reaching for a gun. This action leads to Mark to try and kill the cop. In the finale, after Mark goes back and tries to turn himself in by landing the plane, the great police presence and confusion leads one of the cops to shoot him in the cockpit and kill him instantly.
  • Repeat Cut: The explosion of the house is shown ten times from ten different angles, gradually getting closer.
  • Scenery Gorn: The famous finale features Daria imagining the destruction of the entire desert compound which features a montage showing the explosion of a compound in obsessive detail from multiple camera angles, showing virtually every single household artifact, condiment, furniture, the contents of a refrigerator, the pages of the book in the bookshelf, the glass-shards flying in excruciating detail.
  • The Unreveal: It is never revealed categorically who shot that cop in the protest in the early part of the film. The staging of the scene is ambiguous, with Mark going for the gun hidden in his sock, and the cop being hit by the side. In either case, Mark is blamed for the action.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The counter-culture meeting at the start features a bunch of activists discussing and arguing revolution. Much of the discussion is about whether white activists have the proper revolutionary appetite or are they too privileged. Likewise, there's the debate between those who want direct revolutionary action and the ones who want organized and a proper policy. One of them snarks that "even anarchists want to be organized".
  • Western Terrorists: Mark and his group resort to using violence to take over a section of an university to provoke a meeting with the police, an action which is staged as a kind of ambush. And while Mark may not have killed the cop, he's innocent only by Moral Luck, since he would have killed the cop had he not been beaten to it.