Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point was a dismal failure both financially and critically. The second of three English language films the Italian master of existential languish and privileged ennui had agreed to make for MGM, it’s a mostly directionless mess of a film, lacking cohesion and completely confused about what it’s actually about. The mistake Antonioni made was in trying to make a film about anything. He wasn’t a director who made movies about things. He made movies about moods, about characters who weren’t about anything themselves. Zabriskie Point was a misstep.
And yet. Antonioni’s nack for mood and his gorgeous photography is on display here, making the desert Southwest as barren, lonely, and lovely as it truly is. This is the film’s only triumph. The story is ostensibly focused on the late ’60s campus counterculture, but it can’t sustain that interest for long and instead hones in on two (white, privileged) students who have no idea what they want out of life and both choose ways of escaping southern California. Daria (Daria Halprin) sets out for Phoenix in a borrowed car and Mark (Mark Frechette) sets out for…god knows where…in a stolen airplane. They meet cute in the desert, flirt aimlessly, fuck in the sand in an oddly affecting scene of near magical realism with multiple copulating couple surrounding them, and then go their separate ways.
None of that is important. The movie is, as I said, a mess. What stuck with me is Daria’s trip across the desert in an early 1950s Buick. The car is a gem, and the romance of driving through this forbiddingly beautiful landscape in an ancient automobile, alone and content, gets my heart moving. Take a look at these images of the car, the young woman driving it, and a roadside cafe at the end of the world where she stops for a break. If the movie were just about these things, I would have loved it. Alas.
Antonioni is one of my favorite directors, and this movie was disappointing in light of that. Still, these thin thread in the film was a gorgeous diversion.