“Confusion will be my epitaph, as I crawl a cracked and broken path”. These lyrics taken from King Crimson’s Epitaph (linked below) perfectly describe the state of mind of a troubled mind — a “mind gone sick” —as depicted in Antonioni’s Red Desert.
After an accident, Giuliana, portrayed by Monica Vitti, finds herself a fractured person, with a deep-seeded anxiety, fear, and general overwhelmth of reality. The minimalist approach speaks to her increasing alienation and emptiness, while the factories, which produce poisonous gas — representing the ever-growing industrial progress of the time — coincide with her downward spiral, as the nature of reality overwhelms, confuses, and sickens her perspective.
Though a conventional musical soundtrack is absent, sharp, eerie, haunting tones aesthetically express Giuliana’s emotions, ranging from love — silence — to confusion — a myriad of noises at once — to panic — sharp, high-pitched emanations. These sounds guide the viewer’s senses and, coupled with the incredible performance of Vitti, immediately translate the depicted emotions into the viewer’s experience.
The red colour palette, associated with fearful things such as blood — death — and emergency, agree with the sounds and content, combining to create an aesthetically — formally — impressive work of art, that sinks deep into one’s conscious. As a person who has experienced the trauma of a panic attack, I can personally relate to the feelings — overwhelmth, confusion, multiple fragmented thoughts at once, irrational anxiety, even the redness that accompanies a blurred vision of light — and, with this in mind, I must say that Antonioni depicts and conveys this phenomenal state of mind accurately, honestly, and truthfully.
While Ingmar Bergman may by the finest conveyer of deep psychological intricacies — Through A Glass Darkly being the most comparable here — Antonioni has done a fine job, and unlike many of Bergman’s films, has created an impressive synergy of content and form, expressing himself both directly and poetically.