When I first saw Zabriskie Point two years ago, I was not very impressed. A long-time Antonioni fan, I felt its themes were handled clumsily. What has surprised me in the two years since that first viewing is how much its visual tone has stuck with me, and how clearly (and often) I think about those visuals. The latter half of the film, in which Daria Halprin drives a beat-up early 1950s Buick through the desert Southwest and meets Mark Frechette after he steals a small airplane and buzzes her car on the highway, is gorgeous. The southwest was made for Antonioni’s eye, and it was made too for the often ineffable, morose sense of personal displacement his characters are haunted by.
I haven’t been able to forget those visions, however much of a disorganized mess the film might be as a whole. Really, shouldn’t all we ask of a film be that it give us images that stay with us, that continue to awe us when we remember them, that small segments of the narrative grow in our minds to tug at us, calling us back? Isn’t that especially what we ask of a director like Michelangelo Antonioni, an artist whose work was more about feeling and impression than statement?
Images like these from Halprin’s drive through the lonely, baking desert are seared into my mind:
In a shot like this, you can feel the sun just beginning to cool toward evening:
Zabriskie Point isn’t a road movie per se, but it conveys the uniquely American siren call of driving an impractical car across a long distance of cracking asphalt like few others I can think of, and even finds time to give us the perfect road sides oasis:
As the plot and themes recede farther back into my mind, images like these of Halprin’s car disappearing into the distance become more permanent in my mind:
I should probably revisit Zabriskie Point some time soon, but I’m not sure I want to. I don’t know that I want to be reminded of the disappointing nature of this movie as a whole, and the images aren’t likely to fade my mind any time soon anyway.