Michelangelo Antonioni's L'eclisse: Close micro film interpretation

Monica Vitti

Michelangelo ANtonioni's 1962 fim "L'eclisse" (The Eclipse), the third and last film in his what has been called "Trilogy of Decadence": L'avventura (1960), La notte (1961), L'eclisse (1962)", about the upper middle class Italian intelligentsia of the time. The protagonist is his real life wife, Monica Vitti, as Vittoria, who apparently works as a translator of serious books but must have other income.

Just after (1:42:00) late in the film, Vittoria has hooked up wtih a new lover (Piero) who is a high power stock broker, whom she meets a the bourse, at the end of a seemingly interminable scene of stock trading mayhem and hysteria where Vittoria went not to buy or sell, but looking for her hyperactive mother.

He brings her to his parents' ornate stuffy and apparently unoccupied apartment for afternoon sex. She is feeling alienated and vacillates between wanting to be close to him and not. She doesn't know what she wants and is not comfortable with that.

Piero: "You don't like to come to the exchange." (Aside: Vittoria's mother is an avid amateur stock trader with seemingly inexhaustible energy for busying herself doing things of little importance.)

Vittoria: "I still can't figure out if it's an office, a market place, or a boxing ring. And maybe I don't even need to."

Piero: "You have to come often to understand it. If you get involved, it becomes a passion."

Vittoria: "A passion for what, Piero?"

Then a moment of silence. Vittoria looks at a window (or maybe it's the glazed door to an antique but not collectible armoire?). Starts smiing. She swings the glazed window open and hides behind it in plain sight in front of Piero. He comes over and kisses her through the glass (above). She is playing. She is having fun. At that moment she seems distracted from feeling alienated.

My (BMcC[18-11-46-503]) interpretation: In the film as a whole, Antonioni has presented us with the situation of alienation in a world where advanced technology has profused marerial wealth without spiritual purpose; as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, God is dead. A world perhaps first seen perahps by the British 18th century philosopher David Hume who said we can only know constant conjunctions but not their underlying causation (cosmic rationale) if any. In Martin Heidegger's pithy words, whaever he meant by them: "Es gibt" Or Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy when later asked to justify themselves: "It is what it is". Another Heidegger term: "Geworfenheit", thrownness as in the New Yorker magazine cartoon of two day trippers in the middle of a vast state forest, carefully studying a large map with a big "X" in the center, with the legend:

"You are here and you are lost."

Here Antonioni shows us two ways these persons can not feel alienated:

(1) Pireo immerses himself in the frenzy of the stock market. And:

(2) Vittoria plays.

Immersion in frenzied bus{i|y}ness does not appeal to Vittoria to solve the problem. She does translate books but that does not seem to engage her interest much. She doesn't relate to the active life.

But she does freely give herself up, at least for a moment, to creative play. My contention is that Antonioni is here showing play is a viable solution to alienation, at laest as close as that is possible for us mortals who, again, as per post Humean philosophy, are resricted to appearances and can never find out the real "meaning", if any, of the real world we perforce live in and are perforce therefore structurally ("ontologially") even if not always in practice alienated from. I note although Antonioni here does not, there seem to be other authentic ways to overcome alienation: teaching, caring for the sick, etc. — or, per Claude Levi-Strauss: petting your pet cat

The broader picture

The characters in Antonioni's "Trilogy of decadence" are all upper middle class intelligentsia in late capitalist 1950s social demoratic Europe (the so-called "Free World"). Their alienation in these films plays itself out in externally unremarkable civil society. In La Notte, Monica Vitti plays a wealthy industrialist's world weary daughter, who is reading Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers" and not being very social at a big lawn party her father has put on. One guests says to her husband, who is an architect (famous writer?): "Rich men collect intellectuals, and he has chosen you." Not exactly material for the Tabloids.

Federico Fellini, in his film "La Dolce Vita", at least according to one film critic, satirizes these people. In that film there is a serious intellectual, Steiner, who plays Bach on a church organ in an empty church where the priest knows him, like some ordinary person would schmooze about last nite's pro sport contest, and wishes he was a monk. He despairs of the contemporary world and later in the film commits suicide by shooting himself in the head after murdering his two sleeping young children to spare them growing up in it. At some point, Steiner had thrown a party in which(as at lest one critic has foregrounded:) everyone listens to tape recordings of birds instead of opening the window and litening to the real birds in the trees outside. In Antonioni's La Notte, however, Monica Vitti instantiates Aleksandr Solszhenitzyn's lament: "So long as we wake under a peaceful sun, we must live an everyday life." [Author's note: sounds good to me.]

There is another way another kind of rich people can address their alienation in a secularized world, which, in Amreian movies they often do. It's called, or it was called in the 1950s: "Hollywood". It fascinated America's suburban lawnmowers, all the people who, having come through World War II after The Great Depression, were pursuing and even living "The Ameridan Dream" which, insofar as they thought about it, was superficial. They engaged in idolatry: How was their self-alienation in faux Olympean deities, the [sublunary...] "stars", portrayed and how was it in fact lived?

I offer what New York Times OpEd writer Maurine Dowd described as the "morbid" Peggy Lee ballad she wrote was one of (POTUS №45) Donald J, Trump's favorite songs: "Is that all there is?" It's message: drink alcohol probably in a faux enjoyable "Night Club" until you lose consciousness (Listen here).

But, like past wars and their propaganda, the truth sometimes eventually comes out when it no longer relevant. The poster child of this kind of alienated existence which went under the rubrics "star studded" and "glamorous", Mr. Frank Sinatra, secretly at home painted abstract art which was in fact of at least middling quality: not anything his fans would ever buy or even know existed (Rothko, guys and gals?).

Was Mr. Sinatra himself alienated? Is asking this quesiton similar to asking if Mr. Antonioni was alienated? One way for a "drug addict" to become sober and stay sober is to become a drug counsellor, and the question just now arose in my mind whether Professor Forsdale ever himself had a problem with alcohol. Alas, I cannot ask him questions whcch I expect he would have freely and graciously answered for me because he did tell me things that probably few others knew; there are so many things that, in retrospect, I never asked about before his untimely, and likely unnecessarily premature death due, I firmly believe, to medical malpractice. I still miss you, and as happens, more than I told you I would at the time Professor Forsdale (I remember you mentioning your Prof. Gray to me).


All things come to an end in this world where even protons will eventually decay after trillions of years. so those who would have persons eschew the plessures of the flesh because they are fleeting must have their own aganda of liking something else that dissipates if a bit more slowly. All things come to an end. And if one accepts (as I (BMcC[18-11-46-503]) do), that "is does not imply ought", then nothing can mean anything (which I find good because it leaves me free to make meaning out of it instead of my meaning being constrained by it: I had an intrusive mother). So how does L'eclisse end?

YouTube makes such a question easy to answer, phenomenally: just keep slowly pausing the frame sequence. There is a street daekened in the astronomical solar eclipse and the street lamps turn on and the camera zooms in on one of the lights which expands from almost a dot of light in the encompassing blackness to fill the screen. So is Antonioni saying that she dark state of life in 1950s Italy or The West in general will transmute into new light? Lux in tenebris?

It's an awfully bright light. So will we go from being unable to see becasue it is too dark to being unable to see because we have been blinded? It may be as good an ending as any. When I saw the movie as a moving picture on the big screen, I thought it might be a big lightbulb. Adverting to Hermann Broch, could it be like the ending of "The Death of Virgil"?

I prefer the ending of Lavventura (which seems more analogous to "The Sleepwalkers"). The charcter Monica Vitti plays in that film's lover (Ricardo?) had been unfaithful to her on the previous night for no good reason. She meets him on an empty promenade. He is sitting on a bench, perhaps regretting his infidelity, perhaps feeling sorry for himself or perhahs something else. She comes up behind him and rests her hand on the back of his head in forgiveness, compassion, futility, who knows?

I seem to recall some critic said these films were about "the impossibility of comunication" in the society they portray. I presume this writer meant something different from postmodernism, probably that persons could not negotiate straightforwardly bonding relations with each other, which may be more or less true. But is was not the failure of communication of postmodernism which urges that no thing means anything (their paychecks?), or the intolerance of "worship of the printed word" which sems to be spreading today (+2023.12.06).

Not only do all things end later if not sooner, but they also float in air: As David Hume pointed out, we can observe only constant conjunctions, never "causes". Every foundation is built on a ground which in its turn is founded on something else. Immanuel Kant's "paralogisms of pure reason".

I would like to imageine it is not altogether "hopeless" (being here agnostic about hope...) for Antonioni's charcters who are if we are lucky us (not refugees or combatants in the Ukraine Donbas or some other misfortune...). I would like to imagine Ricardo or Piero or certainly the architect (famous writer) in La Notte, and Vittoria and, were it not too late, Fellini's Steiner... might come to see things my way (arrogant of me, yes?) and find meaning or whatever one wishes to call it in making meaning, in "that careful study and investigation which is the proper duty of man... (François Rabelais). If one does not have to waste one's life to pay the bills or being a hero, why not be like Mr. Antonioni not his characters: to produce the film of [one's] life → not just unnecessarly diminish ourselves to imagine ourselves to just act out roles in a production we did not ourselves write? Can't we play nicely together, Rrose Sélavy, (Or is all this, fortunately for yourself, my reader, obvious to you?)

+2024.01.16 v060
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BMcC signature seal stamp. Modelled on 18th century messenger's letter box in collection of Suntory Museum, Tokyo. Japanese write poems and prayers on slips of paper which they tie into knots like this shape although with longer legs. Prayers are often tied to branches of trees which can look like they are covered with snow. "Symbol of a symbol, image of an image, emerging from the destiny that is sinking into darkness...." (H. Broch, "The Sleepwalkers", p.648) Always remember. Add value. (This image created not later than 21 May 2003)Invenit et fecit
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