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2016 – Screening #6: Vanishing Point (1971) – 105 min.

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Professional driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) takes a bet to ride his Dodge Challenger R/T from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. On his way he fights obstacles and gains supporters, like a blind radio DJ (Cleavon Little) who is able to scan the broadcasts of the police…

For this class I choose the uncut version that only was released in the UK and is seven minutes longer than the US movie. A typical example of a cult movie, this film was a critical as well as a financial failure upon its release in the US. However, after being successful in Europe, the film was re-released in a double bill with “The French Connection” (1971). Running in drive-in theaters and on TV afterwards, the film since then has gained a respectable cult following. Steven Spielberg has named it among his favorite movies (there are some analogies to his 1971 film “Duel”), and Quentin Tarantino paid his homage to it in “Death Proof” (2007). A remake was done for TV in 1997, and “Donnie Darko” director Richard Kelly seems currently to plan another remake for the big screen.

The film was shot by director Richard C. Serafian on a low budget of 1,6 Million US $, but gained over the years more than 12 Million US $ at the box office. Despite its many locations, the film was shot in just 38 days (instead of 60 planned days due to a sudden budget shortage through the studio) with – for its days – light-weight ARRI II cameras and a small crew of 19 (excluding actors). I will leave the end of this film up to your interpretation (before you will hear mine of course). But it might be helpful for you to consider what Barry Newman has pointed in an interview: “… no matter how far they push or chase you, no one can truly take away your freedom…”

IMDb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067927/?ref_=nv_sr_1

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120 responses to “2016 – Screening #6: Vanishing Point (1971) – 105 min.

  1. White Rabbit ⋅

    I think I know the answer to this question, but is there any possibility that this film is really not attempting to symbolize anything? I’m guessing not. But what if the producer was just attempting to make a western-style film, commenting on the anti-establishment part of the US culture, and just so happen to add women in the film at random. Again, I realize this seems like a dumb thought, but what if we’re giving the movie too much credit? Or possibly not giving the film the right type of credit? Maybe we should simply appreciate the racing scenes, scenic shots, and the glory of the muscle car….

    Just thought it would be funny to consider that maybe the film’s intentions may be far simpler than we’re considering it to be, and that it can be appreciated on a more surfaced level.

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    • uruwa ⋅

      This actually crossed my mind when we were discussing the symbolism of all the women being blond and resembling his ex-girlfriend. Of course, this is always a thought in the back of my mind when I watch a film that people label “deep” and “artistic”. It’s very possible, given the stereotypical beautiful woman back in the 70s, that the director gave no deep thought to the women he cast except that they were attractive. To be honest, I didn’t really think much about it until the final girl showed up. I’m so used to skinny blond women in 70s films and TV shows that I figured they were just casting for their demographic. But, after we talked about how the music changes to a soft love tune every time one of these women showed up, I started to lean more towards there being a symbolic reason.

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      • White Rabbit ⋅

        I agree. The discussions in class certainly are very compelling, arguing that the women showing up in the film are very intentional. Especially the last one. The idea that she’s been waiting for him for a long time, really got me thinking: she’s either crazy, or she’s symbolic. And considering the film doesn’t dab much into the crazy phenomenon, I would agree it’s symbolic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • RM ⋅

        I know a lot of people and this was my original take away as well , thought that this women was death maybe ? That would be the obvious symbolism I think. I think alternatively however, that maybe she is “Lady Luck” he has so far in his journey had luck on his side, from strangers appearing out of nowhere to help him out ect. He has had a good run, but now he has run out and so she visits him one last time, and the next day she is gone. His luck is then gone too, and he finally hits a dead end. I realize that at this point I’ve kinda gone off the deep end in terms of speculation but, it doesn’t feel like that wrong of an explanation and I think its as good as any.

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      • uruwa ⋅

        @ White Rabbit
        I definitely would lean towards symbolic, as you said. She just seems so ethereal, more-so than the other girls. Didn’t she even have a slight accent? She was completely set apart from the others, yet she still looked exactly like them.

        @ RM
        That’s actually a really interesting idea, that she’s something like Lady Luck. It would make sense. It’s the same entity over and over constantly bringing him what he needs. With her leaving, his luck has run out, as you said. Or perhaps she has finally given up on him.

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  2. GreenBanana ⋅

    Ive watched the film “Death Proof” in the past, I thought it was interesting to finally watch “Vanishing Point” and look into the movie that made the female protagonists gears grind. In regard to “Death Proof”, the film directed by Quentin Tarantino, the homage made to “Vanishing Point” seems to be the main focus throughout the movie due to the reoccurring usage of and focus on the “legendary” 1970 Dodge Challenger. Though Men were often the leading characters in western car films during the 1970’s, however women are usually supporting love interests and visually appealing characters, In “Death Proof”, women seem to be empowered and skillful in terms of driving compared to their male counterpart, the antagonist, played by Kurt Russell.

    The stunts done in “Vanishing Point” fail in comparison to “Death Proof”‘s due to technological advancements and improvements made in the stuntman profession. Car chases are what make any car film interesting and both films seem to focus on that idea.

    Overall I really liked vanishing point. I dont usually watch car films but having watch death proof this was interesting to compare how these two films are change in gender role. I would recommend this film to my friends and family.

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  3. mkt18 ⋅

    Vanishing point is American New Cinema but I can see some elements of Western film compare to Jesse James. Firstly, both main characters flee from authorities. Kowalski runs away from police and Jesse runs away from railroad company. Both Kowalski and Jesse are illustrated anti-hero or anti-authority I feel. This is because they are criticized by society but some people support them because they confronted authorities. The second similarity is helper. Kowalski and Jesse were helped by helpers therefore they can flee. The Black DJ informs the situation of police to Kowalski through radio, and a lawyer helps Jesse. Their resistance are supported by someone. Third similarity is a landscape. Both main character ran through a vast America. Riding a car reminds riding a horse. One different thing is Kowalski chose ding by himself, but Jesse was killed. However both deaths intend that they are defeated by society.
    It is interesting to compare two films and fond similarities. Jesse James was filmed in 1939 and Vanishing Point was filmed in 1971. Even though both films were filmed different age and there is a gap of 32years age, I can see similarities.

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    • uruwa ⋅

      I agree with the similarity to Jesse James. Even though these movies are decades apart, they have the same storyline overall. Running from the law along with your past, and getting help from someone who is part of society but also somewhat of an outcast in the way that they think. I believe that no matter what year it is, the tale of the great American hero/outlaw will always be timeless.

      The main difference I noticed between these films, however, is that Jesse wanted to re-enter society and lead a normal life. Kowalski, on the other hand, kept running from the law and challenging societal norms to the very end. He never wanted to re-enter society, nor did he ask to be forgiven for what he had done.

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    • dinerbears ⋅

      i really like your idea compare Vanishing point with Jesse James. I did not think that much before start reading your post. After you point out the both main character similarity i think you make the story interesting. when you point out Kowaiski and Jesse were helped by helper. when you mention The black DJ informs the situation of police to Kowaiski through radio and the lawyer helps Jesses. it remind me the classical hero movie templete and i also think those hero movie all low concept to make audience easy to understand and follow.
      i also agree @uruwa mention the different between Jesse james and Kowaiski which is jess james want to re enter society and Kowaiski is challenge the societal norms.

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  4. uruwa ⋅

    I found this movie extremely enjoyable. I have a big interest in classic cars, and having grown up in Northern California, the landscapes in this move were very familiar. I think out of this semester, this film ended up being my favorite. The ending was definitely the most interesting part, being linked to the beginning with the white car fading and him driving the black car into the city. Along with the theory of this being some sort of endless life cycle, I feel like the beginning showed something of an alternate ending. He could have continued the chase. Though it’s more likely that in the beginning as he directs the white car back onto the road, he’s heading back towards the road block, I got the impression that he was instead driving away from it to try and escape capture once again, like he’s still running. But in the end of the movie, instead of continuing to run, he accepts his fate.

    The scene with the final girl didn’t quite click with me until we began discussing it in class. I didn’t realize right away that she represented death, but it makes more sense. I thought perhaps she represented the past, and him finally accepting what had happened (shown in the way he finally accepts the one drug he had been refusing all throughout the movie).

    As I said before, this definitely ended up being my favorite movie this semester. Not just because of the cars and the action, but also because so much of it is left up to your imagination and speculation. I think movies like that are the absolute best.

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  5. dinerbears ⋅

    For the movie Vanishing Point 1971 personally I am not the big fans for this type of movie. However, I think this movie is good to know the some of America culture more. This movie use flashback to help audience understand what is kind of personality main character is he take drug, car race..etc.. In the movie I think the radio DJ is really cool because he is helping and inform the main characters hiding for the police when they doing the car race scene. Even thought it is really confused me when I first watched it. They doing the jump cut between the car race scene and radio station scene also see the bunch of people standing outside of radio. Also the second part of scene we watched in the class also surprise me. The naked blonde rides the motorcycle. I cannot catch the meaning for the scene. The first thing I thought was want to catch the audience attention or they want attract male audience to watched this movie. it is also pretty cool to know when we discuss in the class that the final girl represents the death. If we did not talk about this, I will never think about that deeply.

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    • White Rabbit ⋅

      I agree about the DJ. He is really cool, probably my favorite character in the film. He really helps guide the main character. His energy is also inspiring. I also struggle with the meaning of the naked girl on the motorcycle, and had it not been for the class discussion, much like you stated, I also would’ve struggled to understand the meaning of the last girl.

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    • conan ⋅

      I struggled with the meaning of the naked girl as well. What is the point of her being naked? Is it normal to see naked people riding on bikes in the 70’s? Why would any man turn down sexy girls? Whatever the case was, his intentions seemed to be a little full of himself. This is my hunch but after he saw the first blonde girl when he was making the bet with his friend, he was overcome by the good memories of the woman he loved. I guess nothing really mattered to him anymore. That scene was a bit weird for me but this kind of weirdness is also what makes this film unique, so I think it worked in a way.

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      • RM ⋅

        In reply to conan,
        I think the meaning of the naked girl especially the one on the motorbike, is supposed to be surreal. I mean , a naked girl coming out of the desert on a motor bike ? and who just so happens to have old pictures of him. I think she is supposed to remind us of his old girlfriend, like a ghost of her. I agree with you that its his memories. He is haunted by his dead girlfriend. I think he turns down the sex, because at that moment he is past that, he doesn’t need it. He is on his mission and won’t be tempted away. Or atleast that is how I read it.

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      • dinerbears ⋅

        i am glad that not only me confused and straggle with the naked women part. I do agree with RM if the naked women with the motorbike remind people his old girlfriend it might make more sense to me. and thanks RM for answer my confusion it help me understand this movie a lot more. right now i forgot the details of the movie so i cannot remember the scene when he saw first blonde women he making the bet with his friend. i will like to watch again after finish the final to figure out the details and the part i did not understand.

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  6. conan ⋅

    The title Vanishing Point caught my attention when I first saw the first scene of the film. Because I’m taking an art class, I soon recognized the vanishing point as the term in art. In art, the vanishing point is the spot on the horizon line to which the receding parallel lines diminish. Jesus’s head in a Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” is a good example. As things get further away, they seem smaller and closer together and so form a single point. In the last where two bulldozers came together, I felt that a small apace in the center symbolized the V shape. Kowalski vanished into the sky as if he were filling its empty small space. As movie went on, I thought the title had nothing to do with vanishing point in art, but it turned out it has something to do with it.
    Also I realized that this film somehow could relate to Jesse James. They both features a bad guy who breaks the law. Kowalski is not as bad as James, but he’s also a drug addict and consistently breaking the law. Although in Jesse James, his good characteristic built up a bit too much, I didn’t feel the same way in this film. Kowalski was portrayed the way he is, so I think many people could relate to him being a man of few words.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. RM ⋅

    I’ve always been of the impression that the state of mind, or mood in which you view a film can have a significant impact on your understanding or enjoyment of the film. I think this meshes with the idea that half or more the the biases and expectations you bring with you when you view a piece of art, color your interpretations of it. The reason I bring this up, is that I think when we viewed this movie in class I was in the perfect mood for it. This is starting to sound more like a diary entry but let me explain a bit before you stop reading. The election had been going on, trump had won or was winning, and I had turned introspective, and well disappointed in america ? I suppose. I was in the mood to be cheered up I guess. I was thinking deep thoughts. Then here comes this movie. Vanishing point. A time capsule of a movie if there ever was. Its the 70s , an era in america distilled into a single movie. I was enthralled. The great open american landscapes, the revving of the engine, the power of the sound. Wow the sound in this movie was great!. I felt like I was right there in the car. I would love to watch this movie again with some crazy speakers. These are my impressions of the movie. In some ways it was an american roadtrip movie, in others ways it celebrated that particularly american love for freedom, freedom of a single individual to do what he or she wants and take it to the limit, or past it. The main character is not really an antihero, some here have been comparing him to jesse james, and while I see the similarity, I think they are very different at heart. But they are from the same sort of archetype. The whole movie, the journey as it is, reminds me in a lot of ways of classic story telling When I mean classic I mean classical as in the odyssey. Here is a man on a journey, along the way he faces various challenges, he has a mysterious guide talking to him, calling out across the radio waves, he gets lost, He finally makes it to his destination but when there he finds death. Not an exact copy for sure, but the influence is there. Our lone hero, out their finding his way. I suppose another way to read his character is literally, as the last free man, he represents the end of an era in time, and when he dies so does that era that he symbolizes. Well ok , I’ve been going on about symbolism for a while now. I think it’s time to take a diversion and talk about some of the technical aspects, as well as specific scenes I enjoyed. First of all, I loved the cinematography. The landscapes of midwest americana are gorgeous, I must admit I had almost a swelling of pride there is a certain majesty to the vastness of america. How much of it is empty. All around great. I really liked all the super wide far away shots of the car going along the road. A little point of white traveling across the horizon. Or in some cases away from the camera as it gets smaller and smaller, towards the “Vanishing Point” of the horizon. This movies strongest scenes are its quiet ones. There is a poignant scene early on, that we later learn is right before the main characters death. He has turned around from the roadblock and headed off the road to near some junk. He gets out of the car walks around. Even without knowing much about the character, you can feel a desperation. A resignation in him. Then he gets back in his car. A decision made. And speeds off to his death.

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  8. Derp ⋅

    Looking back the powerpoint slides for the quiz, I noticed something important about “Vanishing Point”.
    When I encounter some scenes with obvious nudity like a young woman riding a bike naked, I actually felt a bit annoyed, thinking that it is a sort of thing that women may not feel secure about. But as I read through those slides, I noticed that the sexual contents included in “Vanishing Point” is actually a sort of sexual liberation, meaning that a woman can have a control over their bodies and life. I came to know that it actually released people from conservative thinking about sex, such as negative conception against premarital sex, birth control, etc.
    This also relates to things that were discussed around the beginning of this class: sexual appeal and sexual objectification. I will try expressing both concepts in my own words: Sexual appeal is related to having control over the representation of one’s own body and using it to express oneself, wheresa sexual objectification is related to neglecting the value of a person as a human being and literaily using her body as an object to gain some sort of profit. And this movie enforced sexual appeal, not sexual objectification–which I thought this film was doing. Well, to think about it, it must feel pretty liberated to ride a bike naked in the middle of an open field (lol). If the actresses engaged in nudity scenes feeling secured and with consent, I am fine with it. But I think it would not be okay if they were forced to do so, despite the fact that you can’t really take control of what you are asked to do in a career.
    Anyway, this was something that I wanted to add to after going over some slides and rediscovering important facts.

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    • Sorabari ⋅

      I agree with your opinion. The movie seems to tell the audience that sexual objectification still exists even though the society thinks that we have overcome the problem. Even nowadays, we’ve faced to the topic that female got objectified, especially advertisement field. Therefore, the movie is the metaphor that women tries to stand up against the society indirectly, but they haven’t grabbed equality yet because we saw that a guy slept with at least two women at the same time. I was worried her riding a bike with naked. She could’ve got burnt because she didn’t have any protection from heat.

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  9. jonsnow ⋅

    Personally, for me this film was a bit hard to stay engaged in. I found myself drifting off thinking of other things while I was watching the film, and I think I can attribute it to its road trip type genre, which I think I sort of unconsciously relate to boredom. The beginning kind of put me off because while I can appreciate the beautiful scenic locations of the American Southwest, it can get a bit mundane quickly as if on an actual road trip, where nothing happens for hours while you’re driving. However, I liked the contrast of the long sprawling road trip with the racy scenes or scenes with explicit content. I thought it was a cool insight into the anti-establishment counterculture of the time. You hear things all the time about the hippie culture and drug movements of the late 60s and 70s, but it was cool to see elements from that time period all in one film, such as rebellion and sexual liberation. I also thought it was cool to see the evolution from the Western genre that we learned about in the beginning of the semester incorporated into American New Cinema. The themes of rebellion against authority was a common point between them. The team up of 2 people to evade the law in a heroic manner was an obvious similarity between Jesse James and Vanishing Point. However, the more explicit content in Vanishing Point was vastly different from any scene we saw in Jesse James. The scenes in Jesse James, especially with the women, I felt were more implicit in any sexual meaning, while in Vanishing Point the racy scenes are fairly uncensored and explicit. Another difference that I thought was interesting was that unlike Jesse James, Kowalski doesn’t seem to have a clear single purpose for doing what he does. He seems indifferent to what goes on around him and is only focused on driving and not stopping. This I think was also another reason as to why I couldn’t stay engaged in the film. The main character, while cool and exciting, seemed a bit too aloof, almost like he could take the story anywhere. I don’t think that this is always a bad thing, but I think for me the movie could have been a bit more exciting if there was that added suspense. While it was an interesting film, I don’t think I would be inclined to explore more films of this particular genre.

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  10. shmoo ⋅

    Another thought on vanishing point…even after watching this film over two weeks ago I still find myself thinking about it quite regularly. the linear journey is often a boring one, but this one doesn’t feel that way. It is hard to imagine how the production crew must of felt about it, knowing what risk they were playing with. When I learned there were only about 16 people in the crew, I thought that it must of been a very intimate and personal production. Even if the film didn’t do so well when it initially came out, it plays with concepts that are just now being recognized. Existentialism is an old concept but in film it hasn’t been played with as much as other themes. I know that looking too deeply into a film doesn’t always mean that you will find something, but the fact that this film makes you do that means something on its own. The quiet desert scenes with strangers, whose names or lives we never get to know make the film what it is. Every time our protagonist might get a little closer, like with the snake wrangler, he drives off once again. He runs away from intimacy because he is afraid of losing someone again. In doing so, he creates his own reality where everything is about the journey. Usually in film, we get the “it’s not about the journey it’s about the friends you make along the way” but as we see Kowalski intentionally not listening to the radios advice, we can begin to understand that by this point Kowalski can only be concerned with himself. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I just really like how this film makes me think about things.

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    • Sorabari ⋅

      Since you’ve mentioned about existentialism, I was thinking about how it’s related to the film by myself. For example, a spoon exists to be used to scoop a thing, usually liquid, and scooping is the purpose for spoons. They are made by human hands therefore they can exist. For human being, existence comes first, so we need to pick up essence with our hands. I heard that existentialism used to describe youth generation who spends a day by doing what they want and gets satisfied with the situation where they are at. In short, people who suggest existentialism are disappointed in the youth who don’t have purpose of their life. In the movie, Kowalski looks sad or bored, which could be related with the youth from existentialism, but in the end, right before he drove into tracks, he looked satisfied or happy, which might be interpreted as he found nothing but killing himself us the best way to figure out what he wants to do based on existentialism. Otherwise, he would turn himself in the authority before.

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  11. Vanishing point consisted of a lot of car chases with Kowalski and the police which I found pretty awesome with the angles of the shots and stunts with the cars.

    It amazes me how easy they make car scenes look. I remember in the powerpoint there was a picture of how they took the scene when Kowalski was in the car and the equipment they put on the car just for a simple car scene is crazy!

    It must have taken many takes and lots of work in regards to the camera crew to achieve the perfect shot.

    Also although I wasnt a huge fan of this film out of our screenings, the thing i found very interesting was the information the audience was able to get even from the short convos between characters and through the car chase scenes. very well done.

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    • Sorabari ⋅

      I agree with you. The car stunt must have been difficult back then. I saw a picture in the powerpoint slide that a camera is attached on the hood of car with weak equipment such as duct tape. Nowadays, technology has been developed, so taking a video on board is quite easier by using GoPro or some small mounting video cameras. Even a scene where a helicopter flies along with the car could be easier by using stabilizing pole that a camera is mounted. The pole is usually used to shoot a promotion video of cars attaching to front or rear bumper. When I was in America, I used to drive around and shoot a video while driving. The struggle was shooting a video that looks like one of car movies like Fast and Furious. The reason why it was difficult is that another driver is required to shoot with different angles, moreover, we needed to drive at the same speed to get the object in the center of the frame. Therefore, I’m not sure many takes that the filmmaker of Vanishing Point had taken, but I could imagine that shooting a car and a helicopter must have been a struggle for sure.

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      • I agree! the helicopter scene must have been a struggle! cant imagine how shaky the camera must have been and trying to get the right angles of the car. Im sure no a days, we have a better method of getting those shots in a much more easier way but back then that must have been tough! props to the directors in the past! we have it easier for sure

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  12. Vanishing point I feel broke away from the standards and went their own way of creating this film.

    As this film had a sterotypical White american as the protagonist, A african american as a DJ and a naked women on a motorcycle (although this is pretty controversial).

    I thought it was great that this film consisted of these characters as it was different than all the other films at the time. I feel like breaking away from the norm applies to everything we do because if everything was simply the same, the audience and the creators would become very bored of the repetition.

    Im not saying do stuff out of the ordinary like a naked women on a bike, but doing stuff to catch the audience’s eyes will get you further than doing the same predictable stuff. Vanishing point did a great job of that by applying those characters in the film.

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    • Sorabari ⋅

      Every scene that Kowalski faces seems interesting because those scenes are separated and independent with each other, but his flashback and pat experience somehow connects with each other; therefore, the audience got some clues as watching and guess who Kowalski used to be and what he’s doing for. The naked woman also may get attention from the audience but, we might have thought why she was riding a bike with naked and what another biker is doing with her. There’s quite few clues scattering in the film, and the audience gets confused what each action is for; therefore, there are lot of interpretations for this film in this discussion. I’m not sure if the filmmaker did this on purpose, but in my opinion, I like those mysterious clues so that I can expand my imagination based on the clues regardless of what the filmmaker tried to tell the audience.

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      • Yeah i agree there were a lot of sub hints to where this film was taking the audience which I found very interesting as well.
        Kowalski being the type of character where from the beginning, his quick decision making made him a very skeptical person where the audience wants to know his background story.
        That i feel is the power of film where it automatically gets the audience to go into assumptions of what he did or is going to do in the sequence of the film. Great way to capture the audience’s interest throughout the film on that part.

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