Zabriskie Point

The freakout takes on the entire American way of life in Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. The freakout here begins in the mind but explodes its way into the homes of millions of television viewers, millions of consumers and daytoday laborers.

Mark and Daria move thru the landscape of our lives, and finally meet in the landscape that both predates us and will live on after us. In an early scene reminiscent of Solaris, Mark drives in his pickup down a suburban strip street that could be almost anywhere, and the scene is one that we might encounter anyway, but a music of sharp percussion and a zooming camera that spews it all into one color of swish transform it into something both beautiful and evil.

Daria stares at the house on the face of rock, the modernist mansion that ignores her suffering and expects her to act her part in a society that she is not able to accept. Her staring is a fantasy, or perhaps it is a weapon. What happens is that the house explodes, not once, but many times. At each explosion we get closer and closer to this mansion on the hill, this signifier of our furthest suburban escape from ourselves, until we find ourselves deep in the explosion itself.

The rip of the sound of explosion after explosion relaxes into the delicate holding music of Pink Floyd. We see an explosion is absolute slow motion, motion so close to stillness that it is spooky, and the long tones of the organ music lead us deeply into the frame. In the grey of explosion dust and smoke we begin to see colors, and slowly we realize that the colors we see are the colors of the culture in which we live. The colors swirl like confetti scattered by all the winds of a continent, and their slow movement is also reminiscent of swirling DNA, or the structure of our brain, or the movement in our blood.

With a drum and a scream the danger grows more insistent. We see the settings in which we live our lives explode one by one. A faceless grey living room with the television on. The explosion comes from the mouth of television and quickly spreads along the entire rectangle. A rack of clothes blasts into a bouquet. Images swirl in slow motion. We see quick glimpses of the tools of our life: a loaf of wonder bread flutters like a falling leaf.

Perhaps this freakout scene hits home so much because it provides such a wonderful shorthand description of American culture. It helps to explain such an overconsumptive culture to equate it with an explosion, a comparison that seems even more apt today when the garden variety of cinema is full of more explosions than love scenes. As Americans we have a highly valued, highly technical and unusual style of life and we are constantly going to the movies to see that style of life explode. Modern movies seem to always be taking us back to the three year old boy, whose main method of dealing with his toys is to hurl them around and make explosion sounds with his mouth. Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are mutant three year olds with their unreasonable huge pects and walnut sized brains and sense of morality.

Zabriskie Point's freakout may excite us, giving us that Beavis and Butthead burn baby burn, seeing all these things that we take for granted exploding into a thousand pieces, but then the slow motion that they spin around in begins to take over. There is a real aesthetic beauty in this destruction, and perhaps what we should be concentrating on isn't the meanspiritedness of the blowing up, but the beauty that is the product of that destruction. Maybe we really need to destroy what we have and take for granted in order to reawaken some kind of sense of beauty in us and the world. Or maybe it is saying that we can find beauty in anything, in anyplace, even in the destruction of all that we hold dear.

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Copyright © 1996 John Akre

This page last revised 12 November 1997