Vanishing Point (1971)
Vanishing Point asks questions: who is Kowalski, why is he running from the police, why does he need to get to San Francisco before? The movie tries to flesh out Kowalski through a series of cheesy flashbacks but these don’t answer anything, they just act as breathing spaces for its relentless linearity and finality. It is one long car chase, done at the time in American cinema where the role of the car was being reexamined. The French Connection celebrates its cinetic power; American Graffiti‘s cars are extensions of their characters, a mobile space of social interaction; Spielberg’s Duel comes close to Vanishing Point in conflating the car chase as plot, and the car as a character. It is no wonder Tarantino chose to quote so obviously from Vanishing Point, the sight of the white Dodge Challenger racing across the roads and deserts of the Western United States achieve a kind of magical power.
There’s no sense in ascribing motives or psychology to Kowalski, he is not even a character in the usual sense, the car is. Super Soul, the blind DJ who listens in the police radio elevates Kowalski as a mythical figure, a hero for early 70’s counterculture. This is no Easy Rider, though. It’s not a road movie, it’s a car movie, as stupid as that sounds. It’s not about who and what Kowalski finds along the way or what led him to do it. As much as there seems to be some half-hearted attempts to give conventional meaning to the movie, it’s essentially meaningless. There’s no meaning beyond what see on the screen, and that is the Dodge Challenger – not Kowalski – speeding until there’s nowhere else to go. And this is probably why he is elected as the counterculture hero: there’s only the act of subversion, without reason and purpose.