Excerpts from A Vigilance of Desire: Antonioni's L'eclisse by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Why do you think eroticism is so prevalent today in our literature, our theatrical shows, and elsewhere? It is a symptom of the emotional sickness of our time. But this preoccupation with the erotic would not become obsessive if Eros were healthy—that is, if it were kept within human proportions. But Eros is sick; man is uneasy, something is bothering him. And whenever something bothers him, man reacts, but he reacts badly, only on erotic impulse, and he is unhappy.
Sexist pronouns and all, this prognosis is tied to the issue of art and business coexisting in the modern world, with the specter of selling out a near-constant in the trilogy’s first two films. Sandro is a former architect who becomes rich by forsaking his art in order to make cost estimates for other architects’ buildings. Giovanni, a successful but bored novelist, is offered a job by a wealthy industrialist whose party he attends with his wife, Lydia (Jeanne Moreau). Sandro lusts in turn after Anna, Claudia, and a hooker, while Giovanni responds to a nymphomaniac hospital patient, to the teenage daughter of the industrialist (Vitti again), and, eventually, to Lydia, who no longer loves him.
But in L’eclisse, Antonioni started regarding Eros more positively, without the same overlay of guilt, and capitalism a little less monolithically as a vehicle for compromise or corruption. These changes become the first intimations of what appears to be a new attitude. Apart from a few throwbacks to treatments of Eros as illness—most notably in Red Desert, his next feature, where Vitti plays the most neurotic of all his characters—the celebration of eroticism has continued all the way up to Antonioni’s episode in the recent Eros, while his view of business, in spite of remaining critical (especially in Zabriskie Point), would also become a little more appreciative, as in his wonder at the vitality of the stock market in L’eclisse and the beauty of certain industrial landscapes in Red Desert.
Il Deserto Rosso