Like Antonioni’s first (and seminal) work, L’Avventura, L’Eclisse is the type of film that could easily, and rightly, be described as boring. The characters make little sense, there isn’t much to enjoy formally (outside of the beautiful, plaintive long shots), and, above all, nothing happens. Look deeper, and the discontent of one woman in two relationships becomes the focus. Look deeper still, and the discontent (or impossibility) of all humanity in all relationships becomes the focus.
The focus couple in L’Eclisse is comprised of Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a recently singled (read: ripe for the market as of ten minutes into the film) woman, and Pietro (Alain Delon), a money-hungry financial investor. This relationship is a sort of rebound for Vittoria – the opening scene of the film consists of a tense, denial-filled breakup between her and her (now former) fiancee. The heretofore Ex throws a tantrum, unable to understand why Vittoria would leave him. Antonioni seems to refuse comment on Vittoria’s motives as well. Seems being the operative word. Antonioni speaks not through dialogue, but through mise-en-scene, the spatial relationships and juxtapositions of objects and individuals, and the placement of the camera that captures them. Underlining and surrounding this first scene are the sounds and images of invention – a fan ubiquitously hums, lights glare, and pieces of architectural art spire menacingly into the frame. Antonioni works entirely with closed forms in this scene, ensnaring Vittoria within her fiancee’s environment. Vittoria never says why she must leave, but when she opens the shades to look at the dawn outside, it becomes clear that Vittoria is suffocated in this relationship – her nature is blocked by her fiancee. She passes a mirror, turns to look at it, and recoils in horror at the image she sees – she hardly recognizes herself because her self is clouded by her fiancee.
This theme of modernization overwhelming, and destroying, nature is the lynchpin of L’Eclisse. The man Vittoria turns to, Pietro, is an analogue to this theme – he cares only for money and the objects money can purchase. As Vittoria knows, at least subconsciously, money cannot purchase a sense of self. Nonetheless, she aligns her herself with Pietro, caught by his good looks and charming manner. The final shots of Vittoria and Pietro, the shots in which we learn that their relationship must also end, show Pietro behind his work desk, imprisoned by the things that earn his living – telephones, pens, sheets of paper filled with financial figures. Pietro’s nature, his self, is lost to these things, so lost that, up until this point, he does not even realize that something is missing. The next shot, of Vittoria, follows her as she walks down the street. As she surveys her surroundings, she is overwhelmed by the modernization around her. The camera captures her behind an iron fence – her nature is trapped by the artifice of modern life. The camera then tilts up, showing all the trees metaphorically trapped behind this fence as well. Antonioni then jumps into a seven-minute “essay”, juxtaposing nature against modernized civilization. The result is a very unsettling portrait of modern life destroying nature.
The idea is that, in the modernized destruction of nature, the nature of humanity is destroyed as well. Therefore, relational sincerity in between humans is rendered impossible – how can one sincerely express one’s self to someone else when one has no idea of one’s own true self?
Without a doubt, L’Eclisse is a masterpiece. It builds upon the ideas Antonioni developed in L’Avventura while simultaneously streamlining the narrative structure. If one cares to look deeper than the surface narrative, a compelling, and sometimes frightening, visual portrait of the struggle between nature and modernization is created, a portrait worthy of the time and effort spent to see and understand its meaning.