Giuliana (Monica Vitti) wandered about a secluded and industrial island in Italy. The machines and buildings are colourful and so are the characters around Giuliana. In Red Desert, Giuliana tries to fit in on the surface but the film is a study of her disintegration.
Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), her husband, explains to his friend, Corrado (Richard Harris), that his wife met with an accident awhile back and has yet to recover since. Yet, in Red Desert, the characters are in so much control that an accident becomes very unlikely. In fact, there were news of a sudden quarantine that caused a huge panic.
Red Desert presents us with characters whose lives are predictable, lush and carefree. They have routines, rituals and they grow into it. Corrado who doesn’t belong to Giuliana and Ugo’s circle of friends is naturally an outsider and his appearance causes an imbalance that invites destruction.
There was a scene during a gathering where the weather was chilly and unbearable but there wasn’t anymore firewood to be found. Corrado breaks the furniture and the structure of the hut’s interior, sparking a metaphorical assumption that Antonioni was trying to break down a certain sense of security. Incidentally, this is also Antonioni’s first colour picture.
Sometimes, destruction is sufficient if death isn’t an option. In Red Desert, the cryptic film might be an allegorical search for perfection. In a way, depression is a perfection of doom in itself. It breaks a person down without any fault.
Amongst the film’s most iconic dialogue, Giuliana announces “There's something terrible about reality and I don't know what it is. No one will tell me.”
Red Desert asks more questions than the answers it provides and its loudest doubt is perhaps asking if destruction is only a provisional excellence? After all, conformity is easy and dictates normality.