In a story that appeared yesterday (8.6) in La Stampa, Maria Elena Finessi reported that the late Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, who passed last July at age 94, was so bummed by “his gradual loss of sight” that he starved himself to death, but in an elegant mystical way that was a kind of “masterpiece” of finality.
Enrico Fico, Michelangelo Antonioni
Finessi got the story from Enrico Fico, the widow of the legendary helmer (L’Avventura, Blow Up, L’Eclisse). Antonioni would not have taken his life by shooting or poison “because I still represented his link with the world,” Fico told Finessi. “But certainly he asked for help. To die was his only wish. To go away, in order not to fall into darkness and live as a blind man”.
Fico, who married Antonioni in the mid ’80s, said that with “incredible willpower” he had “simply stopped eating.” He had eaten little or nothing from September 2006, [a little less than] a year before he died, she told La Stampa. “He came to the table with me, to keep me company, but only ate a few spoonfuls”. He had proved that “one’s body continues to live even if you go month after month without eating”.
She said that like the mystics who had similarly starved themselves, Antonioni had acquired “extraordinary mental lucidity” towards the end. He had put up with his decline and illness “gloriously,” but “not to be able to see was for him truly unacceptable”. He had wanted to die “to free himself not so much from pain as from the body which was the origin of his suffering.” She said his death “was a masterpiece as much as his cinematic works. He went in absolute peace, embracing the absolute, as if he were a mystic. He wanted to de-materialize.”
Slim Pickens’ spirited farewell near the end of Dr. Strangelove.
For years my ideal self-obliteration fantasy (if I was facing imminent death anyway and wanted to end it on my own terms) was to go out like William Holden‘s Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch. But getting shot several times (and in the back!) would hurt. It therefore might be better and kind of cooler, I used to tell myself, to go out like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove — vaporized in a millisecond in a hot flash of light, and so quickly that my body wouldn’t have time to send the pain messages to my brain.
But I don’t feel that way anymore. I believe in raging against the dying of the light and holding on to the very last. I want to go like William F. Buckley, slumped over at my computer, a sentence half-typed. Or I want to collapse on a busy street as I’m thinking about (or trying to get the attention of) a beautiful woman, like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago.