But rhythmically and in other, more important ways, the film feels completely different from those that preceded it. The long-take, expressive longueurs of the previous films have now been replaced, for the most part, by quick cuts and sudden, popping perceptions. A cynic might argue that Antonioni has speeded things up primarily for the benefit of his new, international audience with its presumably shorter attention span - we are, after all, a long way from the brooding, nearly wordless seventeen-minute montage that ends L'eclisse - but it is clear that these changes have important thematic implications.
For Lino Micciche, it is as though the director is purposely avoiding all focusing of interest in order to call into question the idea that reality can have any "meaning" beyond that of its sheer presence. Antonioni does concentrate occasionally on minor, nonnarrative details, as when we briefly watch Hemmings, in a close-up of his hand, do a neat cowboy trick with a coin. But this seems more like a detail meant to build up "character traits" in the traditional way - like his double-take on the "queers" walking their dogs near the antique shop, or the various self-consciously insouciant things he does while driving around in his Rolls-Royce, or the ebullient kicking up of his heels when he first goes to the park - than an "object" or nonnarrative event focused on in order to gauge and savor its philosophical or symbolic resonance, the kind of thing that was often foregrounded in the earlier films.16 The only apparent exception to this purposeful lack of focus on real objects - and it is a major one - is the park, which is obviously central to the project of the film. According to Micciche, however, the park is foregrounded precisely to drive home the original point even more fully: "The profound truth that [the park] seems to offer ultimately reveals itself as absolutely unknowable, precarious, provisional."17
William Arrowsmith and Andrew Sarris, among others, have focused on the park in order to support their view that Antonioni's themes operate through fixed binary oppositions. Not surprisingly, therefore, the park becomes an important site of a traditional Nature/culture division that these critics find throughout the director's work. What they forget, though, is that every bit of Nature seen in Blow-up, especially the park, is in some way also a product of culture. As anthropologist Clifford Geertz once pointed out, Nature is in fact a cultural concept. We must go beyond these rigid, finally untenable binaries to find out what is going on here.
If we move to the ending of the film, which, like all of Antonioni's work, revels in its open-endedness, we can see that Micciche's distinctions, though provocative, are perhaps not quite subtle enough. For it is not that reality has no meaning, it is that it does not have any inherent, immutable, fixed meaning; rather, its meaning is always socially (and therefore historically) determined. Thus, by participating in the celebrated ball-less game of tennis with the mimes at the end, Hemmings can be seen as shaking off his narcissism (which actually amounts, in the epistemological context of the film, to a kind of solipsism), by implicitly admitting that reality is always unconsciously constructed^ and constructed socially^ that is, along with other human beings. Anything can mean anything, anything can stand for or represent anything else, anything can be anything, but only to a group, never to an individual (at least not for long).18 Once Hemmings accepts the authority of this group to name meaning and thus configure reality, he can "find" and return the ball to them.19 The director himself seems to have favored this more positive view of the ending, since he told the Playboy interviewer that the Hemmings character learns many things by the end of the film, "including how to play with an imaginary ball."20