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In ‘White Lotus,’ Beauty and Truth Are All Mixed Up

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“L’Avventura” is just not the one film referenced in “The White Lotus,” which is positively haunted by movies and the fantasies they engender. As Tanya casts herself in her superficial version of an Italian film, Bert Di Grasso — a grandfather whose family trip to Sicily has been upended by the ladies within the family’s refusing to come back — is exalting the ethos of “The Godfather,” by which he sees men who’re free to do as they like. After her ill-fated Vitti cosplay leaves her alone and betrayed, Tanya takes up with Quentin, a part of a bunch of “high-end gays,” as she calls them, who recast her as a tragic heroine. Quentin tells her about his own lost love, however it feels like the plot of “Brokeback Mountain,” and he takes her to the opera to see “Madama Butterfly,” which, on this context, can’t help but think of “M. Butterfly,” and a really specific type of romantic deception. Because the line blurs between stories and lies, the vibe shifts closer to “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” If the primary season of “The White Lotus” was in regards to the casual destructiveness of wealth, this one appears to be about its willful delusion — and the way easily preyed upon individuals who evade reality may be.

In Antonioni’s film, Vitti’s wealth and sweetness grant her character access to a world of glamour, but in addition they trap her in a lie, concealing an actual world of rot and corruption. “L’Avventura” means “the journey” — ironic, since nothing much happens within the movie, and its central mystery isn’t solved — but an “avventura” can also be a term for a bootleg affair, often one entered out of boredom, for kicks. That is precisely how everyone on this season of “The White Lotus” gets into trouble. For each show and film, “love” is a dance of deception and self-delusion, by which it’s hard to inform who’s the mark.

The one character who still clings to purity — the one innocent left to deprave — is Harper Spiller, played by Aubrey Plaza. And she or he is the one who leads to Noto, recreating the Monica Vitti scene within the piazza. Like Claudia, Harper has drifted here by accident — by virtue, one other character observes, of being pretty. The newly wealthy wife of a tech founder, she has come on a luxury vacation on the invitation of his college roommate. Harper is suspicious of the entire endeavor: of getting wealthy quickly, of old friends who materialize suddenly after you get wealthy, of wealthy individuals who spend their lives disengaging from the world and drifting from one fantasy locale to the subsequent. In Noto, she finds herself alone and surrounded by men, exactly like Vitti. Just as within the film, the scene feels excessive and surreal — part paranoid fantasy, part dissociative experience, and even stranger now that it’s 2022, not 1960, and Aubrey Plaza doesn’t cut quite so otherworldly and surprising (for Noto) a figure because the statuesque blonde Vitti did.

As we watch Harper drift through the gang, what we’re is the experience of being checked out. Together with Tanya — who goals to mimic Vitti but is as an alternative brutally compared, by a tactless hotel manager, to Peppa Pig — she offers a metaphor for a way thoroughly we may give ourselves over to imposture.

Antonioni began working through the Italian neorealism movement, when movies were shot on location, making use of nonactors, telling stories about working-class people and poverty and despair. Nevertheless it was “L’Avventura,” with its concentrate on the alienation of the moneyed, that made him internationally famous. I do know this because I took an Italian-neorealism class during a junior yr abroad in Paris, and — not surprisingly, I suppose, for the type of one who takes an Italian-neorealism class during a junior yr in Paris — I, too, preferred Antonioni’s trilogy about disaffected wealthy people to the stuff that had come before: children stealing bicycles, Anna Magnani worrying about unpaid bills, that type of thing. Struggle is difficult to observe; it’s way more nice to have our moral judgments projected right into a world of aestheticized, escapist pleasure.

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