::If you haven’t yet, read Antonioni’s End of Existence – Part One::
In the setting of the shots, you will see one of four types. In the first, the main character is juxtaposed in front of a traditional town setting or barren landscape, thus providing a contrast between the past and present. The character, representative of modern times, obviously doesn’t belong in those surroundings, and the clash is accentuated by the costume – often the characters will be wearing suits or modern styles compared to the rough and worn clothes of the townspeople – and sometimes a menacing atmosphere. In one scene from L’Avventura, the woman looking for her lost friend is intimidated by all the men of a small town (there doesn’t seem to be any women in that town anymore).
In the second setting, the characters are in a barren landscape, which underlines their insignificance when shown in a long shot, as if nature could swallow them in an instant.
In the third, the characters are shown in their own milieu, within a mansion or among others of similar bourgeois class. Here, despite the fact that they’re among their own, you see the awkwardness and meaninglessness of conversations. You see how they’re one in a crowd of many, and it becomes futile to attmpt to distinguish each one from the others. For the audience it’s like trying to distinguish one ant out of an antpile.
In the fourth setting, you’ll see the characters often juxtaposed against a city background, usually among empty buildings and modern minimalist architecture, cold and sterile. All of these places establish a sense of loneliness and mystery. It’s unknowable where the characters are going and what they’re thinking, and they never seem fully comfortable where they are.
Along with these settings, there are sounds from the environment, most often either ambient machine sounds, the consuming roar of waves on an island, indecipherable murmerings from people in the background, or the hollow click clacking of feet on marble, that add to the emptiness or inhospitality of the world they’re in.
The sounds work to make the audience feel rather gloomy, as it’s not music intended to uplift emotions or sentiment, as usual soundtracks do. The music also becomes something that threatens to obliterate the characters themselves. The waves on the island, for example, are occsionally louder than the characters and forebode danger (and the disappearance of the woman). The persistent ringing of phones in L’Eclisse seem to drown a man’s thoughts. And sometimes there isn’t any sound at all, only oppressive silence. Instead of helping viewers embrace the film, the sounds work to push the audience away.
Interspersed within the scenes of wandering, the films focus on relationships between the main characters, or rather, the disintegration of relationships. In L’Avventura, the woman of the engaged couple disappears mysteriously, and while looking for her, the fiance and her friend (played by the beautiful Monica Vitti) both fall in love, or so they think, though the Vitti character doesn’t appreciate how the fiance forgets about his future wife so quickly.
Vitti seems to be the only one with moral qualms, but she falls in love still. However, the man seems to lose interest quickly, and cheats on her in the end. It seems that he wasn’t finding what he was looking for in her, got bored, and decided to go on to the next woman. Fidelity has no meaning to him. In fact, nothing does, as he seems to be searching for something while he wanders, something that wasn’t found in his fiance.
The search actually is used as a ploy to get to the Vitti character. At the end, when Vitti confronts her lover, she seems to forgive him, though it’s debatable since the forgiveness consists of her placing her hand sadly on his head, while he cries. This doubt is emphasized by the composition – she seems to be in a seperate space from him, delineated by the outline of a building. And she’s probably thinking, what’s the point in forgiving, when it has no meaning, when it probably won’t change him? To him, she might as well have disappeared, like her friend did at the beginning, since it probably wouldn’t have mattered to him anyways.
It seems that Antonioni has doubts about what is considered love, that it may all be an illusion. The characters, who seem to be searching for something in all three films, attempt to find meaning in these relationships, but they end up finding nothing. Love, marriage, relationships – to Antonioni they hold no meaning anymore in this world.
This is also seen in La Notte, when a marriage is in its last throes. The husband chases after another girl (again played by Vitti, though it’s not the same character) and the wife begins to wander aimlessly. Both, of course, go nowhere, and at the end, in the couple’s final attempt to salvage things, the husband doesn’t even recognize his own thoughts and writing, when the wife rereads a love letter he sent her when they first met. The words of love that he wrote her are now unrecognizable to both, and the tragedy is that they don’t seem to care. What distresses them is not that they won’t be able to get back together, but that they’re unable to feel anything anymore – they can’t even find a means to communicate to each other meaningfully.
Throughout the films, there’s a stress on the fact that relationships between man and woman, as they’ve been conceived previously, have changed, and traditional ways of thinking about them, about marriage, don’t work anymore or don’t hold meaning anymore. And in the absence of a ritualistic way to go about courting, the characters resort to meaningless flings, perhaps at an attempt to feel something.
L’Eclisse takes this one step further. This movie treats human feelings as if they were something that could be turned on and off suddenly, like a light bulb. Throughout the movie, moments of intense excitement and happiness are shown, but then immediately end, unexpectedly and without explanation. The movie also builds a relationship, and then discards it completely, without any reason. It’s as if the emotions have become completely insignificant, that they don’t matter, either to the characters in the movie or the audience, or Antonioni is saying that they shouldn’t matter anymore.
Perhaps human relations have at this point become so meaningless, so easily discarded, that it can be manipulated with the ease of a simple cut, without another thought to the consequences it’ll have on continuity.
The film itself in terms of continuity begins to fall apart towards the end, until the final ten minutes become a series of foreboding abstract images. In this sequence of shots, we see settings in which earlier scenes have taken place, even using the same camera movements, except that this time the main characters aren’t in them, a haunting reminder of L’Avventura, where a woman’s disappearance is unresolved.
Towards the end of this sequence of shots, we’re shown the portions of buildings with that cold, minimalist architecture, as shapes increasingly dominate the screen and we lose all sense of what’s being shot. The final shot is of a street lamp, its brightness overexposing the image. So it seems that in this world that Antonioni presents, things slowly lose all meaning. And once things have no meaning to them anymore, becoming abstract images, we get the sense that humans aren’t necessary anymore. That is to say, to have watched this film, this world, without the characters would’ve been the same as when they were present before, because the existence of the people in it was meaningless. Without any meaning, there’s no point in existing.