Blow Up (1966) by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni is a great film about the nature of photography.
What uses or functions of photography are shown in the film?
The medium photography is put to a test, to some sort of self-questioning – also regarding the reality of images. What’s reflected in an image is not necessarily “real”. The question is: “How reliable are our interpretations of them?” In the end, a photographer just shows and points with his pictures, but he doesn’t explain anything. All a picture shows is subject to the interpretation of the observer.
Blow Up is a reflection on photography and film. According to director Michelangelo Antonioni, photography is apparently unable to stop the flow of time. The movie is a crime story without a crime; an unsolvable puzzle that makes us understand that in the end we do not know anything.
In London of the “swinging sixties”, the protagonist, a photographer called Thomas, believes that he has captured a murder with his camera. Yet the exact circumstances of what has happened in the park, remain a mystery throughout the whole film.
Director Michelangelo Antonioni does not care to solve the death nor follow the mechanics of the suspense genre.
The point is to show that things are not what they seem. Photographer Thomas is realizing just that when he amplifies the pictures, which he believes shows the crime committed in the park.
The enlarged copy shows that a man doesn’t embrace a woman, but that he grabs her. She looks to the side. To the bushes? What’s in the bushes? And what could be the spot that is hidden behind a bush?
Thomas keeps on developing and amplifying what he believes is murder evidence and covers the walls of his studies with the material. But the harder he is examining the pictures, the more confusing and less clear things began to get – the action suddenly begins to turn into a different direction.
“The film moves around the matter how individual perception can change and be deceived.”
More than anything, Michelangelo Antonioni stresses the perception and reality of things. Or to be more precise, our interpretation of reality. In his photos, Thomas discovers clues that make him believe that there was a murder. But the question remains: Was there really a murder? For Thomas, yes. And it even makes sense to interpret the photos that way. But still it’s not the only possibility – and in the end it doesn’t matter. The film moves around the matter how individual perception can change and be deceived.
Nothing is real. Just like the presumed murder, the film as a whole is a puzzle, an enigma, that has no real solution or explanation.
The bottom line is: We see what we want to see.
Blow Up was inspired by a short story called “Las Babas del Diablo” written by Argentine author Julio Cortázar.
Related article: Have a look at a list of more photography movies worth watching.