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Review: Vanishing Point (1971)

Directed by: | 98 minutes | action, | Actors: , , , , , Robert Donner, , Gilda Texter, , , Karl Swenson, Severn Darden, , ,

A genuine 70s cult classic, that’s what “Vanishing Point” is. The exudes an atmosphere of nostalgia and rebellion that can no longer be found in contemporary films. The main character in this film is not actually Kowalski (who has no first name), but the car. A beautiful white Dodge Challenger R / T from 1970. Kowalski has made a bet that he can drive this muscle car from to San Francisco in 15 hours. Shortly after he has left, he takes some speed and the ride to California can begin. Along the way, he encounters bizarre figures such as a rattlesnake hunter, a kind of religious sect, gay hitchhikers and a naked girl on a motorcycle. Kowalski holds the throttle well and it doesn’t take long until he meets the first cop. This is pushed off the road without too much effort and that is how it actually goes on for an hour and a half. Kowalski tearing through desolate landscapes, chased by police forces from different states.

The police may be against him, but Kowalski does have allies, including DJ Supersoul, a black, blind DJ who tries to lead Kowalski towards freedom with the help of the police scanner. During the film we learn more about Kowalski through flashbacks. He served in Vietnam, was decorated and honorably discharged from service. He then joined the police force, but was forced to resign after being involved in the leakage of confidential information. Another flashback shows how he protects a young girl who is being assaulted by a colleague of his. After his time with the police he became a racing driver, first on the motorcycle and then by car. In both flashbacks of this we see him crash heavily. It can also be seen how his then girlfriend drowned in a surfing accident. So it has not always pleased him, Kowalski is a bitter and gruff man and perhaps that explains why he drives like crazy. There’s the bet, of course, but is the stake (speed worth a few dollars) worth sacrificing his life for?

Kowalski is of course also about honor, but above all he tries to get out of the social yoke. He has tried to adjust to normal life, first as a soldier, later as a cop, trying to serve his country in the right way. However, that life has brought him nothing and now he drives as if the devil is on his heels, like a Last of the Mohicans towards his destruction. He is guided by the voice of Supersoul who calls him “The Last American Hero” and feels connected to him. It’s no coincidence, then, that Supersoul is black and blind, located in an all-white desert town surrounded by hostile police officers. His blindness strengthens his conviction and his ability to read Kowalski’s mind. The microphone is his voice, a voice of someone whose race has long been the center of contempt. Supersoul also tries to free his own soul through Kowalski.

The vehicle to help accomplish that mission has been perfectly chosen. Not only because it is one of the most beautiful muscle ever built, but also because of the name; Challenger. Kowalski and Supersoul literally challenge authority, here we are, they seem to want to say “Show us what you got!” “Vanishing Point” is also a “fin de siècle” story, a unique requiem for an era that is definitely behind us. A time of desolate roads, tearing around the cracks and heavy no-nonsense muscle cars with the so-called big blocks that generated hundreds of horsepower, when the cars only got bigger and heavier and gasoline cost nothing. A time of anarchism, radical changes, a life on in a colorful world where there seemed to be many possibilities. A world filled with the most diverse individual figures, who all gave shape to the American Dream in their own way. Unfortunately, those days are over, America today is a country mostly ruled by fear. A country that tries to control everything and everyone. Someone like Kowalski would be very unhappy at this time, for him there is only one remedy… ”The pedal to the metal!”.

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