Sunday, 4 December 2011

Unit 3: Environment - Review - Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now

Figure 1. Don’t Look Now Poster Art

Nothing can prepare one for this experience. Don’t look now is a film that has its audience bewildered at the subtleties of a photograph or back alley, turning seemingly every day moments into glass fragments of a larger picture. One can only describe a feeling of Déjà Vu as the film’s most prominent feature all while Donald Sutherlands John Baxter stumbles into yet another montage of the eerie on a rather daunting backdrop of Venice.

•Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
•Written by: Chris Bryant & Allan Scott
•Cast: Julie Christie as Laura Baxter, Donald Sutherland as John Baxter, Hilary Mason as Heather, Clelia Matania as Wendy, Massimo Serato as Bishop Barbarigo &
Renato Scarpa as Inspector Longhi.
•Genre: Horror, Mystery, Suspense & Classics
•Duration: 110 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "Nothing is what it seems”

One can only look on from time to time to consider reading between the lines of any feature. Media to date has dropped most of the uncongenial methods of entertainment to draw the masses, clearly defining genre for the attractable demographic. Very rarely nowadays is one’s intellect truly tested requiring a deeper level of thought & understanding, Don’t Look Now is such a film. The epitome of which follows a platitude of sorts but unlike many it is not without its reasons as reviewer Leo Goldsmith of observes:
“Each fleeting glimpse represents only a tiny part of the larger picture, like a mosaic tile, the fragment of a broken mirror, the light reflecting off the canals of Venice, or an individual frame of motion picture film.” (Goldsmith: 2004)
From the onset one feels as though they have been dropped into a story that began long before they started viewing. One would like to think that this keeps us on the edge from the onset, knowing something more is at work then what we can possibly fathom at this particular moment. The scare then bursts through our subconscious as a crimson mess encumbers a seemingly peaceful Holy Polaroid of a church interior it is only at that moment we and John Baxter realise his daughter is drowning and already he is too late to save her, as were we.

Figure 3. "She wants you to know she is happy”

Probably one of the most chilling elements is the films portrayal of the spiritual rendering the sisters Heather and Wendy as melancholic hags chanting in the demeanour of sexual deviants. The dark manor in which the sisters are portrayed does not lend one to trust in their intentions which therefore cause one not to trust in their prophesized truths. One is therefore forced to journey into John Baxter’s psyche which is unclear and rife with subliminal messages portrayed in disarray as reviewer Jay Cocks of Time Magazine observes:
“Don't Look Now uses the occult and the inexplicable as Henry James did: to penetrate the subconscious, to materialize phantoms from the psyche.” (Cocks, 1973)
We are informed throughout the film that John Baxter is in fact psychic himself which would force one to come to the assumption that these distortions of realty are John Baxter seeing fragments of his own impending future. This much is not made clear until Baxter see’s his wife Laura with Wendy & Heather when she was in fact at home with his son. It is therefore accurate to conclude that Baxter’s phantoms were fate trying to warn him of his own impending doom & are not of bad omen as one is forced to originally believe through the suggestive hauntings and eerie collages.

Figure 4. "What is it you fear?”

... a good question for the viewer to consider without any simplistic answer. In short, our minds cannot comprehend the logical when it is distorted in any shape or form. When a setting or state of mind is safe it is considered to be an everyday reality. Fiction sits on a different plateau with things that are obviously not of the real and are therefore not of the mental psyche. It is therefore intellectual uncertainty which sits in between the real and the fictitious. When our minds cannot find a place to seat a particular feeling it is discarded as an emotional unknown, dropped into the realm of the Uncanny as respected psychoanalyst Freud observes:
“There is no question, therefore, of any “intellectual uncertainty”; we know now that we are not supposed to be looking on at the products of a madman’s imagination behind which we, with the superiority of rational minds, are able to detect the sober truth; and yet this knowledge does not lessen the impression of uncanniness in the least degree. The theory of “intellectual uncertainty” is thus incapable of explaining that impression.” (Freud, 1919: 139)
Director Nicholas Roeg knew that voicing John Baxter’s erratic state of mind would create a sense of insecurity within his audience. Baxter’s psyche is the feeling of fear on a level of the unknown, one which we all sense but cannot compensate for. What is interesting is how Roeg makes the correlation of Déjà Vu (an occurrence we can all relate to) a fragment of Baxter’s precognition, this approach once again reaches his audience in new and profound ways. One could not help but feel as though the lasting thought Roeg leaves his audience is that the uncanniness of Déjà Vu is in fact our protection from death should we choose to listen to it.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Don’t Look Now Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At:

Figure 2. Nothing is what it seems. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Figure 3. She wants you to know she is happy. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Figure 4. What is it you fear? (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 04/12/11)



Goldsmith, Leo. (2004) Don’t Look Now Review. At: (Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Cocks, Jay. (1973) Cinema: Second Sight At:,9171,908304,00.html?iid=digg_share (Accessed on: 04/12/11)

Sigmund, Freud. (1919) Essay on The Uncanny, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition
(Accessed on: 04/12/11)

1 comment:

  1. Really insightful review, Stitch. I look forward to reading your response to Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man!