Don’t Look Now (1973)
Don’t Look Now (1973)

Genre: Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: December 9th, 1973 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Nicolas Roeg Actors: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Massimo Serato, Renato Scarpa, Sharon Williams

 


 

S

erene piano music introduces a deceptively quiet opening sequence, involving a young girl, Christine (Sharon Williams), playing with her toys by the water. Meanwhile, 18th-century church restoration contractor John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) studies slides in his home office, while his wife and business partner, Laura (Julie Christie), searches in some books for the answer to a simple question posed by her daughter: if the Earth is round, why is a frozen pond flat? The piano notes quickly vanish, replaced by the disturbing repose of looming tragedy; the little girl drowns in the lake, unrecoverable even after her brother comes running to the parents.

Instantly notable are the editing techniques and the use of colors. Everything seems to possess symbolism and intent, from the matching reds of Christine’s raincoat and spilt liquid on a slide, to the sudden cuts between calm, casual imagery and slow-motion disaster. It’s jarring yet poetic, harboring all sorts of subtle, unsettling ideas, even if they’re not immediately apparent as such. Later, when the Baxters run into a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom is blind – and psychic – the events grow even more disconcerting. The strangers claim to have seen Christine in a vision, which is frightening yet spiritual; uncomfortable yet hopeful. Either way, Laura collapses, awaking in a hospital with a newfound happiness at the thought of her daughter’s spirit remaining with them.

“He has the gift!” Based on a Daphne Du Maurier story, steeped in Gothic thrills despite having a modernized setting in Venice, the plot is destined not to remain upbeat and light. Even the act of visiting an old church to pray seems morbid, emphasized through shadows (which enshroud a great many things, even in broad daylight), ghostly reappearances by the psychic woman, and religious artifacts – which intentionally cross in front of the camera in ominous ways. Curiously, as if to court unnecessary controversy, “Don’t Look Now” additionally features candid nudity and graphic sex, interrupted as well by quick flashes to a different sequence (one of dressing and preparation for dinner, proceeding their lovemaking). The editing quirks are consistent, but the various themes of the story shift around almost unfittingly (especially when the score reintroduces playful, romantic verses), imparting a somewhat perfect freakishness to what could have been a commonplace familial drama.

“She’s trying to get in touch with us!” Other cinematographic tricks (the entire picture is stunning to look at) include plenty of mirrors and reflective surfaces, which contain an inherent sense of deceptiveness and unease – particularly in horror films – as well as recurring visual motifs of water and distorted faces. Splitting the frame into distinct sections of characters; pushing into invasive close-ups; shaking with an unsteady handheld approach; and lingering a touch too long on backgrounds after actions have ceased further contribute to a style that complements supernatural anxieties. Everything is deliberate – perhaps obviously so – from the placement of inanimate objects to the movements of the camera.

Thanks to the steady building of tension, the most innocuous activities could become catastrophic at any moment. An emotionless bishop seems sinister; art restoration atop scaffolding poses unexpected risks; a police inspector’s disbelief feels cruel; and Laura’s persistent faith in the psychic’s prophecies represents a shattering loss of control for John. As the film progresses, all of the technical elements come together in a discernible collaboration of tone – of dread – even as the circumstances of this tragedy-turned-mystery grow more confusing; reality is most certainly in question. There’s a slowness here, too, though “Don’t Look Now” is never uneventful; it’s positively dismaying, in a good way, culminating in a chase – and chaos – that is as unforgettable as it is disorienting and cryptic.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10