Original release: October 16th, 1973
Running time: 110 minutes
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writers: Allan Scott, Chris Bryant, Daphne du Maurier
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason
The loss of a child is something none of us should ever have to bear. Whether it’s by accident, illness, wrongdoing or just the will of God, the pain must be unimaginable all the same and I’m sure it’s something parents never “get over”. I’m grateful that it’s not something I’ve experienced in my own family, I’m not sure how I’d be able to cope with if it did happen, but I must admit the thought of it terrifies me and I do what I can to put it at the back of my mind whenever it comes up.
Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now is a film which has over the years earned the status of “cult classic”, not just for its subject matter, but also for its visual and narrative style, heavily inspired by the Gothic and the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Its story is one which ties together the idea of grieving parents and psychic ability. It tells of a married couple, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie), whose daughter Christine recently drowned in a lake outside their house. They decide to travel to Venice during the off-season when John gets a contract to restore an old church and they hope the opportunity will help them deal with what’s happened.
While in Venice, he starts to believe he might have psychic abilities, after all, he was able to sense something was happening to his daughter when he rushed outside, but it was too late. At a restaurant they meet two elderly sisters; one of them, Heather (Hilary Mason), is blind and psychic and tells Laura she sees Christine and that she’s happy. These events put the couple on a dangerous path. As Laura gets more drawn into believing the sisters have contact with her daughter, she begins to put other things aside; her health, John, and even neglects to fly back home when they receive news about their son being involved in an accident. There’s also a serial killer on the loose in Venice and John is determined to find out what his mysterious visions mean.
Roeg tells his story in an almost non-linear style which fits the plot very well. Images cut back and forth, we see things something all at once, but never completely, only in fragments and only at the film’s end do we then realise, like John, what it all means. It’s of course too late by then for the couple, but for us an audience it’s a horrifying moment and we’re left to decide if these really were psychic visions or a self-fulfilling prophecy. The future is after all changing every time we look at it.
The performances throughout the film are truly magnificent. Sutherland plays the role in a way that helps bring us closer to understanding what John as a grieving parent might be feeling. We watch as events escalate and feel helpless alongside him as he goes through these painful emotions. Christie as Julie is also amazing to watch, the pair share a chemistry that makes them utterly believable in these roles, and the much talked about love scene between them is handled beautifully.
While its make-up effects – such as spurting blood from a neck wound – and some of the editing styles seem to have aged badly, the film holds a nostalgic charm. There’s something dark, unpleasant and depressing about Venice during its off-season and the mise-en-scène here compliments the natural and at times off-beat performances. Hilary Mason a pivotal scene with her captivating and bewildering performance as the blind psychic.
Don’t Look Now also brings forward questions about belief, will, determinism and fate and when you sit down and think about it, these themes are really quite complex. If you believe it’s possible to see the future, then the idea of determinism comes into play; that we’re all on a set path and nothing we do can change that.
On the other hand, if you believe in free will, to what extent are we free to create our paths and make our own choices? Ultimately we ask what’s the point of having a psychic ability if we can’t change what’s about to happen?
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .