MovieChat Forums > Trans-Europ-Express (1968) Discussion > "He's A Real Nowhere Man" - The Beatles ...

"He's A Real Nowhere Man" - The Beatles (1966).

"Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."-J Cocteau
Alain Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express (1967) is a film about making a film. As such, it is thematically related to Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966),and Vilgot Sjoman's I Am Curious (Yellow)(1967) and I Am Curious (Blue)(1968). That these European films were made almost simultaneously seems more than a mere coincidence here, and suggests some cross fertilization of filmmaking ideas.

In any case, all these films center upon the same theme:"Where does the movie end, and reality begin?" The idea, of course, is hardly new, for in 1599, it was Shakespeare who penned in his play As You Like It: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." The point is that stage plays and theatrical films are merely a refinement and an objectification of what everyday people do everyday. We all assume the roles that society assigns to us, and read the lines off the script appropriate to a specific role, all the while wearing the "theater mask" for that socially assigned role.

But it is Bergman, in his Persona, who most clearly articulates the main issue here, that while we are wearing various social masks, assuming our various social selfs, we are, to some extent,cutting ourselves off from our true, inner self. This is where the "inauthenticity", the emptiness, and the lack of real meaning in life that the Existentialists love to talk about emanates.

This is significant to the character of the protagonist Elias in Trans-Europ-Express, because he comes across as a man without a real self, a genuine self. In fact, the viewer never learns the protaganist's real name for Elias is an alias, thusly making our protagonist somewhat anonymous, somewhat lacking in a real self in the storyline itself. Add to that the fact that his "mission" in the film as a drug courier is a role that was recently assigned to him, a role then that his is just "rehearsing", and thus distant from his real self, and we have a perfect model of a seemingly "everyday man" who has donned a social mask and is merely playing the role that has been assigned to him. Elias' proclivity toward prostitutes and sado-masochism is particularly interesting in this regard too, because his brutal sado-masochistic persona, which emerges when he is alone with a prostitute seems alien to his personality in all other scenes in the film. So,the sado-masochistic Elias is prominently portrayed as an assumed social role, an assumed social mask as well, somehow divorced from his real, genuine,inner self.

In short, Elias as a role in a contrived screenplay,is little more "real" than the actual Elias portrayed in the "reality" of the drug smuggling operation itself. Elias, as both portrayed in the film as a figment of a screenwriter's imagination, as as a "real" person, using an alias, in a drug smuggling scheme, are equally unreal, equally "inauthentic", as the Existentists like to say.

As such, the character Elias is somewhat reminiscent of the Beatles song "Nowhere Man" which was, coincidentally or not, released in 1966. All the way around, Elias, in this film, is a "Nowhere Man", just as we all are, to a certain extent, as we offer ourselves as the willing pawns of the social institutions, and the social influences all around us in our everyday lives.


Very interesting review and critique. I like the concluding paragraph.

The final shot shows us "Elias" and "Eva" meeting and embracing before both turn and look into the camera. In that moment they looked happy, especially "Elias" who has not smiled throughout the entire film until then. So, my take is these are real people living in parallel to the film story with events that may or may not be happening. I know that the scene could be interpreted as Trintignant meeting Pisier, as he is on the train with our director/screenwriters but I prefer to think it is the real Elias and Eva.

A bird sings and the mountain's silence deepens.