Italian title: "L'eclisse"
Written and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Music: Giovanni Fusco
With Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal, and others
While the first credits appear on the screen, we hear the celebrated pop singer Mina sing "Il twist." It is a cheerful number, presented with gusto and playful exuberance. This music ends abruptly in the middle of the credits, to be replaced by an atonal and dissonant composition by Giovanni Fusco. The contrast between the two pieces is sharp and significant. It indicates an opposition that runs through the entire film--that between the ordinary and familiar on the one hand, and the strange and unsettling on the other. The traditional harmonies and predictable rhythm of the twist represent what people are used to; popular music is what average consumers enjoy and feel at home with. Modern symphonic music, by contrast, is innovative and upsetting; dissonance in particular expresses alienation and is experienced as disturbing. Throughout the film there is a polar opposition between seeing the world as something ordinary and normal on the one hand, and as something strange and mysterious on the other. For Vittoria (Monica Vitti), the young woman at the center of the film, it is the alien nature of things that increasingly comes to the fore. Fusco's atonal music, although only sparingly used, is an effective means to invoke the haunting strangeness of existence.
In the early morning hours Vittoria and Ricardo (Francisco Rabal) find themselves in Ricardo's modern apartment--emotionally exhausted and mostly silent. The lovers are in the last phase of their break-up. They have talked all night, and they have reached a point where nothing more can be said or done. Ricardo, dejected, anxiously looks at Vittoria--or spitefully turns away from her, morosely staring at nothing. Vittoria slowly walks through the apartment, gazing wonderingly at art objects, books, and pieces of furniture. The sound that persists throughout the scene is the whir of an electric fan. It emphasizes the silence and the emptiness of the couple’s situation.
A little later we see Vittoria walking through Rome's modern EUR district toward her own apartment. The streets are mostly empty and quiet. The wide-open spaces and non-historical architecture hint at modernity and estrangement A car stops beside Vittoria, and Ricardo gets out. He insists that he escort her home; he is desperate. When they reach her apartment he invites her for breakfast, but Vittoria declines. "I'm not hungry," she says with some emphasis. Hiding his hunger for love and his pain under an awkwardly nonchalant demeanor, Ricardo utters a final good-bye and walks off. Vittoria enters her apartment and goes to the window. In the silence of early morning she becomes absorbed in watching the wind move the foliage of some trees.
In a taxi Vittoria arrives at the Rome Stock Exchange. She emerges into the hectic commotion of rushing people, honking cars, and the general bustle of the traditional downtown business district. The architecture is historic and shaped by tradition. In contrast to the previous scene, people and buildings are crowded together in narrow spaces. Inside the Exchange brokers are yelling, gesticulating, telephoning, and rushing frantically back and forth. Bells are ringing; on the electronic board stock prices are flashing and changing. For an outsider like Vittoria the scene is one of hectic and crazy confusion. People are fiercely driven by their purposes and desires. Slowly Vittoria makes her way through the crowd. She is looking for her mother who regularly attends the trading sessions as a small-time speculator. When Vittoria spots her, the mother is absorbed by the dealing on the trading floor and the changing numbers on the board. The mother whispers something to a young trader, Piero (Alain Delon), who immediately rushes to a phone. There an older trader happens to be giving a buy order which Piero overhears. Piero, pleased to catch this bit of insider information, runs off to tell his boss about it.
Eventually Vittoria succeeds in getting her mother's attention. It is a distracted attention, however, because the mother is obsessed by her gambling and the frantic communications that dominate the scene. Her conversation with her daughter is bare of cordiality or joy. Piero joins them and perfunctorily introduces himself to Vittoria.
A loud buzzer quiets the traders, and a manager announces that one of their colleagues has died. He asks for a moment of silence. For a full minute one hears nothing but the soft sound of ceiling fans and the ringing of distant telephones. The traders do not show any emotion: the minute of silence is a formality. Piero whispers to Vittoria that huge sums of money are lost during such breaks. As soon as the minute has passed, the deafening clamor of the floor erupts once more, and everybody is involved with new vigor in buying and selling. Vittoria's mother has a hard time tearing herself away from the trading. When she finally joins her daughter outside, Vittoria realizes that she will not be able to have the heart-to-heart talk with her mother for which she has come downtown.
In the evening Vittoria is chatting with her neighbor Anita and Anita’s friend Marta in Marta's swank apartment. Marta’s place is decorated with large pictures of African landscapes, hunting rifles, wild-life trophies, native artifacts, and other memorabilia from colonial Kenya. Marta was born and raised in East Africa, and she does not like living in Rome. She shows Anita and Vittoria various books and photographs, and then plays a record of enticing drum beats. Vittoria (according to the script) "experiences a great sense of grandeur, of freedom, of nobility,"(1) while taking in the sights and sounds of African culture. She tries on native clothing and jewelry, and smilingly paints her face black. She dances to the music while brandishing a spear. Nowhere in the film does she look happier than in this scene. Marta, however, gets annoyed and tells her friends to "stop playing Negroes." Her further remarks reveal that she harbors a racist contempt for black Africans, and that she hates them for organizing a final uprising to get rid of their European exploiters.
There is a noise at the door. The women discover that Marta's dog has run away. The little poodle has joined a whole pack of dogs that are freely roaming through the night. Marta and Vittoria chase after them. Eventually Vittoria finds herself alone on top of a hill where the wind is gently rattling the gay wires of a row of flag poles. Fascinated she stands in the dark, looking at the flagpoles and a statue, while listening spell-bound to the sounds of the wind and the wires. Nothing happens, but she is receptive and alert, and the things around her present themselves with an otherworldly intensity.
Next day we see Vittoria and Anita in the backseats of a small air plane. Anita's husband and a co-pilot are transferring the plane to Verona. Vittoria deeply enjoys the aerial views, the radiant light, the clouds that they traverse, and finally the wide and tranquil space of the airfield. Again, nothing happens, but Vittoria is absorbed in the sensuous perception of such every-day things as a tune in the juke box, a couple of waiting passengers, and the view of the distant foothills of the Alps. Away from the pressures and the distracting commerce of Rome, she spends leisurely time intensively looking at things.
Back in Rome Vittoria witnesses a severe downturn at the Stock Exchange. The unexpected crash causes a pandemonium of screaming, telephoning, running, and crying. Vittoria’s mother screams in hysterics: "It's always the Socialists who spoil everything that goes on here.” She rubs salt on her thigh to protect herself against further bad luck.
Piero joins Vittoria at the bistro, all the while making telephone calls. He barely finds time to scarf down the food he has ordered, or to pay real attention to the woman in whom he is obviously interested. "Don't you ever stand still?" Vittoria asks him. Piero looks astonished. "Why should I stand still?" he asks. He does not know what she means.
In the evening Piero rudely dismisses a date and drives in his Alfa-Romeo to Vittoria's apartment. Vittoria is working on a translation when she sees him outside. She hides in another room. A drunk walks by and happens to spot her. He shouts a friendly hello and staggers on. When Piero realizes that Vittoria is home, he asks her to let him in. Although she likes his charm and wit, she declines with a laugh. At that moment the drunk steals Piero's car and drives off at a dangerous speed. Piero curses and goes off in search of the police.
Next morning the Alfa-Romeo is pulled from a pond while Piero is watching in a crowd of onlookers. Vittoria joins him. She tells him that she is glad that he has called her. It turns out that there is a dead man in the car--the drunk from last night. Vittoria is disturbed, but Piero is only concerned about the possible damage to the Alfa Romeo.
They stroll in the direction of Vittoria's apartment. In the middle of a zebra crossing Piero tells her that he will kiss her when they reach the other side of the street. He kisses her briefly when they get there, but Vittoria pulls away. "I am going," she tells him. Walking hesitantly away she tears a small piece of wood off a fence and throws it into a barrel of water that stands at a nearby construction site. At night she calls Piero, but does not respond when he answers the phone.
During one of the next days Vittoria walks to the corner where they had kissed; she has a date with Piero. While she is waiting she looks around--at the nearby streets, at the few people who pass by, at the building under construction, and at other random sights of the neighborhood. In spite of the ordinariness of the environment, everything she sees seems to have a strong presence, even the small piece of wood that still floats in the barrel. Piero arrives, lights a cigarette, and carelessly tosses the empty match book into the barrel, where it is seen drifting beside the piece of wood.
The pair drive to the apartment of Piero’s parents in a historic section of Rome. The apartment is decorated with weighty furniture, expensive carpets, and traditional paintings and family portraits. Piero, however, has no interest in or relation to artistic tradition. His life is focused on making money, and he just uses his parents' place to see his girl friends. Vittoria has mixed feelings about getting involved with him--not necessarily because of his girlfriends, but because of the one-dimensional and predictable life he seems to live. Still, after some hesitation and clowning around, Vittoria and Piero end up making love.
Some days later the two lovers lie on the grass in a park discussing their feelings. There is some tension between them. They obviously are attracted to each other, but they do not really know what to make of their relation. Piero mentions marriage, but Vittoria has no interest in it. Piero wants to know whether they could at least “get along,” but even about that Vittoria is unsure. "I wish I didn't love you," she finally tells him, "or that I loved you much more than I do."
On a still later day they make love in Piero's office while the business is closed. They seem to have a good time. They are both affectionate and relaxed, and they clown around in high spirits. When it is time for Vittoria to leave, they agree to meet again soon--that same evening, in fact, at the corner where they always meet. They also agree to meet the next day, and the following—“forever.” Although at one point there is a shade of anxiety on Vittoria's face, it looks as if the couple had finally found to each other in a happy ending sort of way. They kiss tenderly, and Vittoria departs, leaving Piero in an unusually thoughtful mood. Vittoria, too, is very pensive when she steps out of the building. Wonderingly she looks into the foliage of a big tree.
When evening comes, neither of the lovers appears at their meeting place. The last seven minutes of "The Eclipse" consist of a series of more or less random shots that show details of the area where the pair used to meet, but not the lovers themselves. No more mention is made of either Vittoria or Piero. The same anonymous people as usual pass by at the familiar corner. A bus stops, and passengers get off. Water leaks from the barrel in which we see the piece of wood and the match book floating on the black surface. A man looks at the headlines of a paper. "The Atomic Age," we can read, and "The Peace Is Weak." The streets are deserted now, and night is coming on. The building under construction stands empty; the straw mats of the scaffolding are moved by a breeze. The film ends abruptly with a blinding close-up shot of a street light.
Eclipse and Angst
In the Preface to the collection of his film scripts Six Films, Antonioni describes how he experienced the actual solar eclipse that originally he meant to include in “L’eclisse”:
I am in Florence to see and film a solar eclipse. Unexpected and intense cold. Silence different from all other silences. Wan light, different from all other lights. And then darkness. Total stillness. All I am capable of thinking is that during an eclipse even feelings probably come to a halt. It is an idea that has vaguely to do with the film I am preparing--more a sensation than an idea, but a sensation which defines the film even when the film is far from being defined. All the work and the shots that came after have always been related back to that idea, or sensation, or premonition. I have never been able to leave it aside.(2)
The wan light, the eerie silence, and the unexpected cold bring about a disquieting change of the everyday world, a change that makes the ordinary look strange, and the familiar uncanny. In the dark light of the eclipse the everyday world has become an alien world, even though it is the same world.
The eclipse can be seen as a metaphor of what Heidegger describes as the experience of angst (or as “the clear night of the nothingness of angst”).(3) A person seized by the feeling of angst feels radically alienated from the world in which he or she lives; in angst the world “draws away.” Not, to be sure, by simply disappearing or turning into some sort of physical void, but rather by losing all significance or meaning. The world in its entirety becoming a matter of total indifference. The person in angst, too, becomes a being without meaning. He or she is reduced to a mere being-there, a being without any purpose or meaningful place in the world.
For most people angst is, of course, not an agreeable mood. People seized by it are seen as having a problem. People in angst may try to seek help or find relief through self-medication. As mentioned earlier, however, Heidegger did not think that angst is necessarily something to avoid. On the contrary, finding oneself reduced to a mere being-there, a person has the chance of experiencing who he or she most basically is, namely not a persona defined by social roles, cultural traditions, religious dogmas, and the like, but an individual who faces the world as a radically isolated self. The experience of angst, in other words, is a moment of truth, a moment that one can contemplate, remember, and use.
Ordinarily, “to be” means to be in a world—intricately involved with other people and in practical undertakings. Living in a world we share tasks, expectations, and understandings. Involved in this way we are familiar with things and situations; we are at home in a world. There is a naturally developing conformity with others that allows us to function and live. Much more than we usually realize, basic decisions that shape our life are not made by us as independent individuals, but directly or indirectly by others. Most of the time people do what “one” is supposed to do. It is only in extraordinary situations, as in moments of deep angst, that it dawns on us to what degree we may fail to live out of our own personal selves—to what extent our personal lives may lack the sort of authenticity or autonomy that constitute genuine self-determination.
It is within this contrast of being a more or less conforming part of the social and physical world on the one hand, and of finding oneself in radical isolation from everyone and everything on the other, that Vittoria’s probing and tentative life is taking shape. The story of “L’eclisse” is Vittoria’s gradual development from being fully involved in the affairs of everyday life to the deep isolation of angst—the discovery and experience of the strangeness of being.
Things and the Strangeness of Being
It has always been noted that the world of things plays an unusually important role in Antonioni's movies, particularly in the films of his middle-period work--"L'avventura," "La notte," "L'eclisse," and "Il deserto rosso." More conventional films, especially Hollywood movies, naturally concentrate on relations between people. Protagonists and antagonists with their conflicting desires and feelings are at the center of most stories. Rooms, streets, cities, or landscapes function merely as backgrounds, and singled-out objects are rarely more than the necessary props for advancing the plot of a drama. Even when stories take place in spectacular environments, cameras never focus on the world of things for more than some seconds--just long enough to give the viewer an idea of where the protagonists are, or to add a bit of atmosphere and color to the ongoing action. In Antonioni's films, by contrast, environments always loom large. Backgrounds, as it were, turn into foregrounds. Locations and objects become players in their own rights.
That things have the same weight as people in his films is not just a stylistic peculiarity of Antonioni's work, it is to a large extent what his middle-period movies are about. In "L’eclisse" especially the ascend and emphasized visibility of the world of things is a central part of the story. Vittoria develops in a way that increasingly gets her out of the everyday world of human relations, and ever more deeply into a state of mind in which she experiences the explicit presence of objects as an inviting and challenging mystery. It is through her growing exposure to the world of things that the heroine gains an awareness of being, and thus a grasp of her existence.
From the very beginning of the film Vittoria is shown to be fascinated by objects. Not, to be sure, in the way in which obsessive shoppers or voracious eaters are “into things,” but by way of a quiet and wondering contemplation of her physical environment. When her exhausting night talk with Ricardo has come to an end, she languidly moves about in the apartment, wonderingly looking at this and that. She handles a number of objects and tentatively arranges them into an aesthetic configuration—in the way a painter arranges objects in the composition of a still life. She also finds a small picture frame and uses it to look at things as if they were art works. This playful framing of things invokes a general aesthetic approach to the world, a possible mode of existence and experience that some thinkers have recommended as a comprehensive philosophy of life. “It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified,” Nietzsche for example remarks.(4) Vittoria's perception of things as aesthetic objects, however, is only provisional; aestheticism as a systematic mode of perception or way of life is presented here as a mere possibility. As the film advances, another way of perceiving objects comes increasingly to the fore.
When Vittoria finds herself late at night on top of the hill besides the flagpoles with their clanking wires, she still seems fascinated by the aesthetic qualities of the objects around her. That is suggested, for example, by the fact that one of the things she encounters is a statue, an explicit work of art. Her gaze, that encompasses both artworks and utilitarian objects, turns all things of the world into items that could be exhibits in something like an art show. The world of sophisticated modernity in which Vittoria lives is, after all, a world in which mere noises have become parts of avant-garde music, and "found objects" regular exhibits in state-of-the-art galleries. Ever since the emergence of Dada and similar movements, the erosion of the difference between art and not-art has been a significant feature of modern perception and culture: everything is art if only looked at in the right way.
In spite of Vittoria's aesthetic fascination, however, a further aspect of objects begins to emerge in this night scene: the absolute strangeness of things. This strangeness can be pinpointed as follows. Things are most familiar when seen in the context of their everyday use. There is no mystery about any object as long as it fulfills a practical function. Things lose their everyday familiarity somewhat, however, when they are removed from their practical use and contemplated aesthetically. When some isolated machine part or a wind-sculpted rock, for example, are appreciated for their texture, color, or form, such objects cease to be what they ordinarily are and become something else: objects of beauty--products of a special kind of appreciation. Things, finally, become entirely unusual when none of the above perceptions are applied. Without practical, aesthetic, or any other kind of recognizable purpose things become intriguingly strange when looked at with any degree of concentration or intensity. All one perceives is that they exist. But a thing that only exists becomes a sort of enigma; existence as such is mysterious, baffling. “Why is there anything at all, and not rather nothing?” one may feel prompted to ask.(5)
It is this sort of strangeness that Vittoria begins to experience as she stands in the dark, gazing at the objects around her, and listening to the sounds of the wires. It is the same strangeness that emerges in the wan light and haunting silence of the eclipse that Antonioni observed, and in “the clear night of the nothingness of angst” in which Vittoria is beginning to find herself--a night in which the world as well as Vittoria herself are reduced to a pure being-there without purpose or meaning.
Her fascination with the haunting strangeness of things never leaves Vittoria for the remainder of the film. While walking about at the airfield in Verona, for example, she is, of course, enjoying the quiet day and the absence of the pressures that besieged her in Rome. But she also experiences the fascination that the purposeless presence of things has for her. There is nothing special to gaze at, after all, nothing sensational or unusually pretty. Vittoria is not curious about either aeronautics or the social life at the airfield. She just moves about, looking intensely but without purpose at airplanes, buildings, runways, and distant vapor trails in the sky. She is absorbed in the meaningless presence of things--their senseless, mysterious being-there. Her gaze, indeed, is so disconnected from ordinary life that even people and social situations are changed into things. The what of seeing turns into a how. The strangeness of being is the only thing left.
In the house of Piero's parents, too, Vittoria spends a long time just looking at things, both inside and outside the apartment. Her lingering is, of course, in part due to the hesitation she feels about getting involved with Piero. But Vittoria is also caught by the haunting strangeness of everything around her, particularly by the strangeness of vistas and objects that are trivial and familiar. Describing Vittoria's gaze from the window into the street, when she aimlessly observes people engaged in their everyday pursuits, the text of the screenplay explains:
There is little sunlight outside, and the city is bathed in a soft, ambiguous light. In front of the house, the street widens out towards an enormous church. Buildings are bunched together on all sides, one on top of the other, with countless vacant windows. The entire world is here laid out in front of her, tired and still, as though waiting to die: the grotesquerie of the church building, the group of people coming out of the afternoon mass, the soldier leaning up against the side of the wall, eating ice cream.(6)
The things Vittoria sees are ordinary indeed; Piero has no idea of what there should be to gaze at. Nevertheless, for Vittoria the silent presence of things is enormous. They represent being as such—“the entire world” that is “laid out in front of her, tired and still, as though waiting to die.” The “ambiguous light” that prevails is that of the eclipse again, the eclipse that reveals the absolute strangeness of the world and its baffling existence. In spite of the fact that Vittoria and Piero become lovers, it is the haunting and mysterious presence of things that persists in the end, and with it the enigma of her own being.
A Woman Without Identity
What is happening to Vittoria in “l’eclisse” is a sort of awakening, an awakening that enables her to see the world--as well as herself--in a new and exploratory way. Most people, one might say, go through much of their lives like somnambulists—unaware of themselves, and unquestioning of the environment in which they pursue their goals. Piero and Vittoria's mother are presented as examples of this sort of life. The whole frantic world of the Stock Exchange is so extensively portrayed in the film in order to highlight a way of being that is characterized by driven activity and the absence of critical self-reflection. Vittoria, in contrast to most people around her, is in a process of coming to. Her perception and experience of the world as something wondrous and strange is the beginning of an existential emancipation. Her repeated “I don’t know” and her general hesitancy indicate that she has stopped living like a programmed machine.
Naturally, Vittoria's general uncertainty about things affects her relation to people. When Piero asks her whether she thinks that the two of them could get along, she replies: "I don't know." Piero responds: "There you go again! That's all you know to say: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know! Then why do you go with me?" Piero expects predictability and order in his life. He wants to define Vittoria as a fixed part of his preconceived concepts and accepted routines. He himself is a conventional and predictable person. Money and status symbols define his existence. He does not waste time on potentially disruptive or subversive interests such as art, critical politics, or philosophical readings. As a mind--in spite of his charm and quick wit--he is as bland as he is adjusted to the cultural status quo. At the time at which they meet, Piero is the exact opposite of Vittoria. While he is firmly locked into his frantic brokerage activity and his complacent outlook on life, she is wondering, searching, and probingly open to discoveries and new possibilities. While Piero is a cog in the commercial machine, Vittoria is something like a rebel--not by pursuing any obviously revolutionary programs, to be sure, but by quietly questioning and moving out of established relations.
Vittoria's growing distance to the world implies a distance to institutions and forms of life. When Piero asks her whether she would marry him, Vittoria answers: "I don't miss marriage." "How can you miss it?" Piero replies. "You've never been married." "No, that's not what I meant," Vittoria tells him. Her point is that she feels no need to live within the confines of that particular or any other established institution. She has no need for the sort of rules and structures that seem so natural to Piero and people like him. Her tendency is to get out--out of the habits and conventions that dominate the lives of most people around her, and out of the sort of security and being settled that most people seem to desire. Vittoria's basic disposition is openness—without yet an idea of what she may be open to. She experiences her existence as such—undefined and held out into “nothingness.”
That not minor changes or adjustments, but radically new approaches to life are at stake, is suggested by Vittoria's enthusiastic impersonation of an African dancer. In this playful encounter with another civilization she temporarily experiences a joy and intensity of being that she rather misses in her own world. The different life for which she vaguely hopes must be something like a different civilization, something that would require an entirely new way of being in the world. She realizes, of course, that imitating tribal Africans, or even just moving to Africa, would be a futile and illusory endeavor. Marta tells her that Africa is in revolt, and that Europeans, as the former colonizers and exploiters of that continent, would hardly be welcome to just go there and naively live an enchanted life. Still, Vittoria's momentary infatuation serves as a measure of her disenchantment with the established ways of the West. Her critical remarks about the obsessive pursuits at the stock exchange, and about the inner poverty of the people who spend their days fettered to that institution, leave no doubt that she feels like a stranger in her own world.
During the lovers’ last tryst in the office we see them in a mocking performance of love scenes. At first they mimic couples that they had observed earlier, exaggerating their expressions of love and passion, and making fun of all the stereotypes of love. Very quickly they get into mimicking their own love behavior, too, and they seem amused by the apparent strangeness of their own conduct. They are, in any event, creating a sort of distance between their passionate feelings and themselves, and for Vittoria this distance to herself is clearly more than the product of a temporary lark. She rather feels that she is not quite herself while carrying on as a lover of Piero. Seeing herself doing what she is doing she has become a stranger to herself. She does not know yet who eventually she may be or become, but she cannot help thinking that her old roles or “identities” will definitely not do anymore.
The Last Seven Minutes
One may wonder whether the description of Vittoria’s state of mind in terms of angst is not a little too dark or severe. Vittoria, as emphasized by Antonioni in a 1962 interview, is, after all, not a neurotic or on the verge of some sort of breakdown. She is neither dysfunctional in her job, nor in need of any medication to make it through the day. Her thinking moods and questioning attitudes are those of a bright and healthy young woman who thinks about things.(7) What one needs to remember here is that angst is not necessarily a morbid or pathological condition, but a natural occasional feeling that presents the world and one’s self as the extraordinary phenomena that they are. What Vittoria experiences are not morbid emotional attacks, but rather calm revelations of the strangeness of being. Her story, one could say, is not a matter of psychological problems, but of philosophical insight and growth.
The basically philosophical nature of “l’eclisse” is hinted at subtly at the beginning of the film, but is more strongly displayed at the end. When Vittoria’s friend Anita asks about her break-up with Ricardo, Vittoria exclaims: “Ugh ..we spent the whole night talking and talking. And for what? I tell you, I am so sick and tired and disgusted, so dissatisfied.!” This by itself would express nothing more than an ordinary weariness of men and relationship hassles. But Vittoria’s remark that immediately follows this outburst indicates a deeper and more significant alienation from the world of romantic feelings and sexual passions: “What can I tell you? There are days when it seems that having a piece of cloth, or a needle and thread, or a book, or a man, is all the same thing.” The idea is that men are altogether on the same level as objects--that they cannot claim any special importance just because they are living or human beings. In Vittoria’s dominant mood all things are on the same level, and things are just things.
In the middle of the film Vittoria tears a small piece of wood from a fence and tosses it into the water barrel at the construction site. On following occasions she more than once looks at this seemingly banal object. Her interest or attention is peculiar. The piece of wood, after all, has no function in the plot of the story. It is, indeed, the very senselessness of its presence that makes it important to her and the film. Antonioni reminds us of an experience of the world where the difference between important and unimportant things is suspended, where, in other words, nothing has meaning.
The collage of more or less random shots that constitutes the last seven minutes of “l’eclisse” confronts us with the same puzzling senseless as the piece of wood in the barrel. Without a human context of the sort provided by Vittoria’s and Piero’s romantic situation, the shown details of the neighborhood have no meaning. What we see at the end of the film is designed to amount to nothing; it is to reveal “nothingness.” And that is the philosophical point of the film: Antonioni’s existentialism, as one might say.
(1) Screenplays of Michelangelo Antonioni, With an introduction by the author (New York: Orion Press, 1963), p. 299. Translation by Louis Brigante.
(2) Preface to Six Films, reprinted in: Michelangelo Antonioni, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema (New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1996), p. 59. Translated by Allison Cooper.
(3) “In der hellen Nacht des Nichts der Angst …” in: Martin Heidegger, Was ist Metaphysik? (Bonn: Verlag Friedrich Cohen, 1931), p. 18. Translation by the author.
(4) Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Translated and edited, with commentaries, by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1968), pp. 52 and 141.
(5) Martin Heidegger, Was ist Metaphysik? (Bonn: Verlag Friedrich Cohen, 1931), p.27. Translation by the author.
(6) Screenplays of Michelangelo Antonioni, p. 349.
(7) The Architecture of Vision, p. 289.
( From: Jorn K. Bramann: Educating Rita and Other Philosophical Movies)
Heidegger: Nothingness and Authentic Existence