Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film, Blow-Up (1966) doesn’t start off like any of the prior films: the elements of mystery aren’t revealed until the second half. Themes regarding the question of reality and old vs. the new are at the forefront. A prime example of these thematic threads are the mimes, shown in the beginning and at the very end, along with the clash between old, decrepit London, and the new districts. The mimes, for one, enact a very different tone in both instances they are present on screen.
For the most part our main character, Thomas (David Hemmings), is unapologetically cold in many ways; though he seems to be searching for a purpose in life, whether he realizes it or not. His obsession with materialism is appalling, and it is paired with how he treats the other characters, especially women (because they are not people in his mind, just pawns). He attaches the meaning of life to these objects in many ways, as he most notably does with the propeller he purchases from an antique store.
Similarly, the mimes attach the meaning of life to material items. Though these are not physically seen, they are implied. The key difference is that the mimes are successful, happy, and exist without possessions. The citizens in the “old” London appear much happier than the younger ones, with the minor exception of the homeless, unburdened by material items.
Take, for instance, when Thomas stops by the antique shop for the first time and spots a gay couple walking their poodle. Even though the couple exists as outsiders who are living in an arguably forgotten place, they appear to be truly happy. Deep down Thomas knows he is not, and it doesn’t fully occur to him until moments before he fades into the nothingness. He has moments where an existential threat looms over him before the finale, but it doesn’t seem to click for him.
A notable instance of this comes after he learns that he didn’t stop the murder, but merely captured it on camera. He catches his wife having sex with another man in the process of seeking her out to discuss the murder he witnessed. He doesn’t interrupt, instead opting to become a voyeur in the moment. She confirms to him, through a series of eye matches, that she is aware of his presence. While his facial reaction isn’t expressive, or even dramatized, the viewer can gauge a sliver of remorse; remorse for how he has treated his wife like one of his models; for how little he truly cares for her. He doesn’t even bother to talk about it, much less scold her for her actions because he realizes that his actions have led to this.
Instead, he exits to his studio to find that the blow-ups he has processed have been stolen. It wasn’t the notion of his wife cheating that defeated him; it was losing (perhaps for the first time) the one item he was genuinely concerned with. His detachment from reality ultimately becomes his greatest downfall and the film wholeheartedly acknowledges his distance from the truth, thus rendering him out of the frame entirely by the end.