Take one good look at any aspect of your life, and you’ll realize how dependent that aspect is on structure. What do you prioritize most? Your family? Your education? Your service to an organization or sports team? Your religion? Each one of those things hinges on a so-called ‘structure.’ The average day for most people goes a little something like this: Wake up. Snooze alarm. Wake up again. Curse the Sun for rising. Eat breakfast. Dump. Bathe. Brush teeth. Dress for work / school. Drive / get driven / commute to office / school. Work / study. Wish you were somewhere else. Lunch break. More work / more study. Go home. Eat dinner. Dump. Do more work / do homework. Brush teeth. Wish you never wake up. Sleep. Wake up – damn it!
This goes on for the better part of the year.
In the film Blow-Up, the main character – the photographer – lives his life with minimal structure. Here we see a man who really encompasses the essence of the phrase “screw it.” He does whatever he wants and he actually gets away with it. In one scene, he tells his models to shut their eyes, then leaves them in the studio while he takes the rest of the day off. Hate him all you want for being an arrogant prick, but you have to admire his authentic cavalier disposition. He never tries to be an asshole. He really just IS one.
The main character that “has nothing to lose” is a staple in modern cinema. However, this type of character is often reserved for renegade soldiers, vigilantes, mercenaries, junkies, and the like. Rarely is this archetype depicted in the average joe like the photographer. That’s exactly what makes his character so much more intriguing and satisfying. You can’t help asking yourself, “If an average guy like him can get away with it, then can’t an average person like me pull it off as well?” Suddenly, the impossible seems very, very possible.
Although the film is narrated in the third-person, it never leaves its main character – not even for a second. Thus, the development of the plot is entirely dependent on the photographer. But what this plot is exactly is difficult to determine even as the film progresses – a result of the photographer’s random acts of impulsion. One film analyst describes the photographer’s acts of impulsion as “distractions.” He goes on to say that these distractions serve as evidence to the photographer’s “inability to stay engaging with experience and to stay connected with other human beings.”
Although there are many instances in the film that support this view (such as the photographer’s repeated failed attempts at communicating the discovery of the murdered man to Ron and Patricia), I would have to disagree with the analyst’s use of the word “distraction” in describing the random occurrences. In my opinion, these random occurrences drive the plot more powerfully than the murder mystery itself. In fact, the discovery of the murder (a random occurrence in itself) would not have been possible had the photographer not decided to take a stroll in the park and impulsively photograph the couple.
The photographer’s life seems to be one random occurrence after another. And this “lack” of structure is ironically an uncanny form of structure for the photographer. The total uncertainty of his future is the very fabric that holds his life in place. In one scene, he says to Vanessa Redgrave’s character, “Nothing like a little disaster to sort things out.” This one comment gives us a glimpse as to the kind of person the photographer is. Self-admittedly reckless and carefree, he dives head first from one disaster to the next. His cavalier attitude is the cause of – and sometimes, strangely the solution to – all of his problems.
The one thing that this film beautifully communicates – albeit unintentionally – is an appreciation for the ephemeral. The photographer constantly caresses what is temporary. In one of the last few scenes, he practically claws against the mob for the fretboard of the Yardbirds’ lead guitarist. Once outside the club, he soaks in his prize, then casually discards it – dropping it none to gently on the pavement. In our precious, individual lives, we fight so hard to keep what we have in the hopes of it lasting forever. But the more we try to hold on to certain things, the more they elude the grasp of our fingertips.
One lesson we can take with us from watching Blow-Up is how to love what is temporary instead of loathing it like we always do. If the only thing constant is change, then perhaps the only thing permanent in this world is the ephemeral. Moments come and go – some so fast that we don’t even realize they were there until they’re gone. But that doesn’t make them any less authentic. Contrarily, it makes them even more precious than something that lasts forever.
You don’t miss what you’ve never had, but you will always miss what you once did.