Don’t Look Now

I am working on a few writing projects at the moment, including a horror novel. So watching horror movies counts as research. I watched the Nicholas Roeg film Don’t Look Now (1973) this past May.

The movie stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter. The movie opens with John inexplicably realizing that something is wrong with his daughter. He runs outside and discovers her drowned body. The film then cuts to Venice, several months later, where John is working to restore an old church. One evening while the couple are out eating dinner Laura happens upon two English sisters, one of whom claims to be a psychic who has communicated with her deceased daughter. This has the effect of helping Laura resolve her guilt and depression. John, however, is dubious that a stranger may have communicated with their dead daughter. Laura, taken with the sisters, meets with them again. This results in the psychic issuing a warning that the couple should leave Venice.

The movie depicts the conflict between a couple that is still in crisis over the loss of their child. Their conflict evolves from the tension between rationality and faith, and each one’s acceptance, or nonacceptance, that the woman’s psychic powers are real. Laura, believing in the woman and her predictions, pleads with John to leave Venice. He cannot accept the veracity of the warnings, or that the woman communicated with his daughter. Even as there are hints that the psychic is correctly seeing things, John is too caught up in his rationality and rejects it all as nonsense.

There are hints that John sees the same things as the psychic. I noticed these hints, and thought of them as being strange, weird is probably a better way to put it, as I was watching the movie. Much like John, I missed the point of them. After watching the movie I read a few reviews, something I typically do after I watch a movie. It was in reading the reviews that I caught the significance of these scenes.

I first saw this film as a kid, probably in the early 80’s. I remember two specific things from my viewing of this movie as a kid. First is the red rain coat the daughter was wearing before she drowned. The second thing I remember is John chasing a mysterious child in a similar red rain coat through Venice. This viewing will add to those recollections the scene of his wife on a boat with the two sisters. I remembered the twist ending as well, but the movie didn’t make much sense to me as a kid.

Now I realize that this was not a movie designed for children, this is an adult movie. Not just because of the infamous sex scene (the actors have publicly disagreed over whether they had actual sex in the movie), but because of the themes involved: the loss of a child and the subsequent feelings of grief and depression, the acceptance or nonacceptance of religion and the supernatural, rationality versus faith. It is a suspenseful and well-made movie, if a little silly at times. In the end it has a proper twist ending and it builds up its supernatural credentials well enough (if you are paying attention).

I considered watching the movie again so that I could pick up the clues as I went along. In the end I just sent the disc back to Netflix. The movie was boring. I suppose it is a product of its time and that is the way that movies flowed back then; it was enough to dissuade me from dedicating another two hours at an attempt for a better understanding.

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