American Car Movie Week Day 7: Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point

Today I watched Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point (1971)

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As with most of these movies, the story here is simple.  Kowalski is a car delivery driver who needs to make it From Denver to San Fransisco in a white Dodge Challenger by Monday, but he says he will do it by 3:00 PM the next day.  This will require a load of uppers and some serious, flat-out driving, which of course attracts the attention of the cops and kicks of a truly epic chase.  As we learn more about Kowalski we are shown that this is not some simple boast and delivery deal.  His adrenaline driven joyride is a meditation on the state of America as Kowalski is heralded by a radio DJ named Super Soul as the last American Hero.

Vanishing Point is everything, the Alpha and Omega of the car movie, I really can’t praise it highly enough.  This film single-handedly made me realize what this genre is all about, it codifies it all into a single, adrenaline pumping flick.  Kowalski’s last American hero persona is a tragic one, even though it’s culture is rooted in the idea of freedom, this film sees American liberty slipping away.  He was once a soldier, race car and motorcycle driver, and even an ex-cop, discharged for standing up against a fellow officer’s attempted rape, an act of oppression.

This social commentary rides high on the back of very well crafted existentialism.  The very nature of freedom is open for display in this film, well at least a very Sartre inspired version of it anyway.  This movie really made me think about that sort of thing, what freedom means, the responsibilities it entails, and how alienating it can be.  It also made me see the car as more than a machine and as a symbol for many things, escape, independance, and of course, the word of the day, freedom.  With the troubles gripping America today, Vanishing Point is more topical and relevant than ever and I consider it an absolute must see for pretty much everyone.  It’s cynical and anarchistic energy pleads for us all to re-evaluate just how free we are and just how sane the world around us is.  5/5

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