Directed by: Nicholas Roeg
Written By: Chris Bryant, Allan Scott
Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier
Julie Christie - Laura Baxter
Donald Sutherland - John Baxter
Massimo Serato - Bishop Barbarigo
Renato Scarpa - Inspector Longhi
‘Don't Look Now brilliantly portrays the loves and losses we all experience, our here and now dictated by the fallibility of human nature and the cruelties of time.’ Putman D., (2011)
Dustin Putman gives a very concise account of the issues that Nic Roeg’s 1973 film presents.
Laura and John Baxter experience the loss of their daughter in a tragic drowning, then move to Venice where John Baxter is employed to renovate a church using his skills in antique building restoration. What transpires is a journey for both husband and wife, who suffer the emotional and psychological extremes of their independently and in very different ways. Laura Baxter takes solace through the chance befriending of two sisters, one of whom claims to have second sight, a skill which replaces her actual sight, whereas husband John buries himself in his work and the practicalities that come with his role, both as provider and husband.
In order to portray the removal from reality (as opposed to a full blown descent into madness) the director uses a somewhat abrupt and jarring style both in cinematography and editing. ‘Like some manic slasher on the loose, Nic Roeg cuts compulsively, severing the natural arteries between cause and effect to expose a more irrational kind of narrative continuum...a true classic, worth looking at not just now but long into the future.’ Bitel A., (2011) While some may disagree with Bitel’s assessment of the continuing worth of Roeg’s psychic horror (Vincent Canby writes, ‘Not only do you probably have better things to do, but so, I'm sure, do most of the people connected with the film.’ (2010)) for the most part this is a solid, suspenseful plot, ambiguous in places due in part to it’s execution but still full of promise.
Notable scenes are of course the couples love making in the second act. This is a breath of fresh air in the middle of a very troubled tale. It defines (for me) a point in the couples relationship and ongoing loss where they rediscover themselves as man and wife, man and woman. This is important, as those used to a more mature, loving relationship will know. I think the way Roeg edits post coital shot of husband and wife staring dreamily and ‘back patting’ accordingly.
Another pivotal, albeit slightly protracted scene is that of Sutherland narrowly escaping death on a very shaky gantry inside the church. Again ferociously cut in post-production the scene seems to depict the point at which Sutherland’s madness finds it’s grip, indeed, it is proposed that Sutherland is in fact more unhinged than his wife. Only after watching the entire film and musing on it’s merits is the audience encouraged to consider the impact of Sutherland’s second sight on the images he sees throughout.
The final scenes are of Sutherland pursuing a small childlike figure, dressed in the same red coat and boots his daughter wore on the day of her death. Gripped by mania he pursues and corners the figure. In arguably the most famous and disturbing scene the figure turns, revealing a shriveled, haggard face, almost witch like. The creature (presumably the same responsible for the spate of Venetian murders which we are alerted to sporadically) turns and whilst the horrified Sutherland is frozen, on his knees she/it cuts his throat leaving him to bleed out as his wife Laura struggles to come to his aid.
What is Roeg’s message? I cannot surely say. Perhaps it is an over indulgent message, stating that grief, if ignored or somehow circumvented will return to consume and destroy it’s host. But for a couple battling the gloom of their own sadness, there must surely be strength in numbers.
Bitel A., (June 20, 2011). ‘Little White Lies’, rottentomatoes.com
Canby V., (July23, 2010). ‘New York Times’, rottentomatoes.com
Putman D., (October 15, 2011). ‘dustinputman.com’, rottentomatoes.com
Poster Image: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dont_look_now/