The Implications of Materialism in Blowup
Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup is a slow and often confusing meditation on modern life. Given how much of the film’s events go unexplained, it can be difficult to understand what statement Antonioni is attempting to make with this movie. Certain key scenes of Blowup do stand out as moments relating to the materialism that many participated in during the 1960s in London. The presence of the expensive outfits of Thomas’s fashion models and the stylish furniture in Thomas’s apartment imply that the people of London are obsessed by the need to own material possessions. Given the consistent imagery of the 1960s materialist lifestyle, we can see that the alienation and confusion in Blowup stems from the dehumanizing effects of people’s dependence upon materialism.
To Thomas, possessions are more important than are other people. This materialist mindset causes Thomas to put himself before others. The first person Thomas tells about the dead body in the park is his agent, with whom he is working to release a book of photographs. Thomas reveals the morbid news, then he expresses his desire to photograph the dead body because it would be great for his book. This shocking moment reveals that Thomas, when faced with violence and death, is so self-interested that he can only view the event in terms of economic gain for himself. A lifestyle constantly surrounded by trends, fashionable items, and self-interest has desensitized him completely. This mindset is problematic because, as we can see, when human lives are secondary to objects, human beings can become commoditized.
This intense obsession with material possessions is seen throughout London, not only within Thomas’s psyche. When Thomas attends the Yardbirds concert, the audience stands lifelessly. The people all spring into action when Jeff Beck smashes his guitar and a piece of his guitar neck flies out into the crowd. Music and art, it seems, are no longer important when they cannot be commoditized immediately. But the crowd knows that a piece of Jeff Beck’s guitar is worth grabbing because it has immediately become endowed with an exchange value. The values and priorities of the people of London, in the modern world, have been noticeably skewed.
The ending of Blowup is certainly bizarre due to Thomas’s confused participation in a mime troupe’s tennis game. The invisibility of the mimes’ racquets and tennis balls, as well as the fact that this scene calls for the audience’s (and Thomas’s) imagination, contrasts sharply with the images of expensive clothing and stylish furniture throughout the rest of the film. Thomas’s decision to participate by throwing the mimes’ “tennis ball” back to them is one of reluctance, because he does not know how to act within a scenario that is not somehow related to physical material possessions. This ending scene represents a juxtaposition to the rest of the film, as well as a kind of utopian vision of an alternative lifestyle for Thomas, whose lifestyle is likely no longer making him happy.
Blowup serves as a terrifying illustration about how far removed a person can get from ethical behavior or from reality. Indeed, Thomas’s main activity, experiencing life from behind a camera, helps us further understand this problematic removal. The alienation of modern life was not new territory for Antonioni by this point, as he had dealt with that same thematic material in Red Desert as well as in his famous film trilogy. With this film, Antonioni continues within that vein, moving this time into darker territory due to the fact that the alienating effects of materialism and self-interest, unfortunately, had yet to be solved.
Antonioni, Michelangelo. Blowup. Premier Pictures, 1966. Film.
Antonioni, Michelangelo. La Notte. United Artists, 1961. Film.
Antonioni, Michelangelo. L’Avventura. Cino Del Duca, 1960. Film.
Antonioni, Michelangelo. L’Eclisse. Cineriz, 1962. Film.
Antonioni, Michelangelo. Red Desert. Rizzoli, 1965. Film.
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