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Review Vanishing Point (1971): A film about a man driving from point A to point B. Nothing to get excited about.

genre: action, crime

Born in the mid seventies, I always have some special memories from this period. I know a lot of movies were made in this era that are classics. I never heard of Vanishing Point until I saw Death Proof, second movie from Grindhouse were the same car is being featured. And since someone referred to this film I had to check it out for myself.

I must admit that were some great stunts in this one. If you encounter a lunatic like Kowalski on the road how would you react? It is then funny to witness that the main character in the white dodge is perceived as a hero. Apparently it seems that everybody from that period who took a stand against authority was a hero. But Kowalski isn't a hero he (Barry Newman) was just dangerous. And for a former cop and a professional race driver he sure drove like a madman. He didn't seem in control of the steering wheel. Maybe Kowalski was tired and and he had enough but the path he chose wasn't heroic at all. It could very well be that there were some reasons and motivations for driving like he does. But we never get to know them so why should I care.  I was hoping for some great chase sequences and truly dazzling stunts. Or why else would so many people be praising this film. But apart from a few nice stunts these aren't present. The whole film is basically about a man driving from point A to point B without offering much else. Many fans of this film will have let you believe that so much more is going on. That it is meaningful and deep. Why does every film where drugs play a large role in events is being claimed as the second coming? Just because drugs can alter and warp the way you think does not always mean it's good or enlightening. I am not anti drugs or anything but we do have to be real and admit why most people resort to drugs and alcohol. Apart from making them feel good these substances offer an escape from reality. From time to time that can help you deal with things if it gets too much for you. However don't pretend that using will give you the answers you seek. Most of the time it won't. But here you have fans who claim otherwise and try to preach the non existent gospel of the film like in text beneath.  

" So maybe this has been covered already. But since this movie is basically a flashback, he is already dead, that part is not disputable. However, I think, his journey, through the desert, is actually his trip through purgatory. Everyone he meets is basically a lost soul, but they are helping him on his destination. His wife was already dead from the surfing accident. Like Dante, he is traveling through purgatory to find his love. He is constantly tempted to be untrue, the gas station attendant and the nude girl, but he refuses. At the end, he see the light, between the bulldozers, like a tunnel into heaven, he knows on the other end is his lost love." 

Extracted from wikipedia: Actor Barry Newman (Kowalski) also thought that the entire film was an essay on existentialism. Kowalski drives to drive, with no real purpose for doing what he's doing. He decides to give his life its definition and meaning, with complete freedom over his actions. Director Sarafian explained that he wanted to make Kowalski appear otherworldly and that the world within the film was a temporary existence that he was just making a stop in. At the end of the film, he was ascending from this existence into another. The lyrics of the end song underscore this interpretation: "Nobody knows, nobody sees, till the light of life stops burning, till another soul goes free."

Even if above comments are true and director Sarafian wanted to convey this he did a poor job of it. How convenient it is that most of the story and characterization is so abstract that you can make out of it whatever you want without having to prove much. It is this kind of pretension that bothers me. Because it is very easy to be vague and abstract. How often don't we hear that some epic moments in films have been unintentional. And usually have been caused by mistakes like running out of film. How can we be sure that in this case something happened and prevented to film that next scene that would have put everything in perspective? Or perhaps that scene was filmed but that the director decided not to put it in since it would give a too good of explanation that simply might not have been as exciting or mind blowing. How do we know for sure that what eventually is shown in the film has been intentional? 

Vanishing Point didn't struck a cord with me at all. I am all for substance but then you have to offer something real and nothing something you have to imagine yourself. I know my imagination is huge. However that does not mean storytellers always can get away with excluding their answer to the problems raised. If you want to challenge me then you need to do better than that. Give your answer. I will give mine. And then we can debate it. It is here where we truly learn from each other. In the end Vanishing point is a film about a man driving from point A to point B. Nothing to get excited about.

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