Director Nicholas Roeg’s film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story, Don’t Look Now (1973) is recognisable for its use of recurring themes and a Hitchcockian style of editing. The combination of foreboding subject matter and editorial jump-cut’s give the film a continuous sense of jarring and displacement – at no point does it seem to follow a linear trajectory as it repeatedly throws the audience between past, present and future.
The film’s plot is centred on the sudden loss of a child and the grief and strain that places upon a loving relationship, and explores the psychological pressure that the human mind experiences when suffering such tragedy. Following the loss of their child, John and Laura – the films protagonists – relocate to Venice where John is working on a church. It is here where they first encounter two elderly women, one of whom is a blind psychic who tells Laura that she can see her daughter, Christine. From that point forth a new stress is placed upon the couple and each begins to experience an intense psychological rollercoaster.
Screenwriter Allan Scott worked alongside Chris Bryant to transform Du Maurier’s exploration of the psychology of grief, into an unsettling and powerful visual representation of it, eventually directed by Roeg. They wasted no time in applying the themes and motifs that made Don’t Look Now an iconic piece of cinema and immediately toyed with an integral element of its story by changing the way in which Christine, the daughter of the film’s central characters, dies: in the story Christine dies after suffering Meningitis but in the film she tragically and suddenly drowns, introducing one of the its most recurring themes: water.
Scott recently told CineVue that he felt “It was important to introduce some of the themes of the film early on and just hint that its central character (John) might just be precognitive”, as he felt that it compelled an audience to “remain fixed on its story.”
Scott also reiterated the importance of the script and how visions for the film were provided by the screenwriters – like the transitional shot between the emotionally distraught Laura and the drill, where the camera tracks in on Laura’s face as she screams and tracks back out on a drill in Venice, with the shrieking sound of both overlapping with one another. This Hitchcockian style of shooting gives the film genuine artistic credibility and an unnerving style that wholly reflects its difficult subject matter.
The other motifs and themes explored by Don’t Look Now provide the audience with visual clues that set up integral moments of suspense, like when a glass falls and/or breaks, or the sight of running water, and repeatedly the vision of a child wearing a shiny red coat works to blatantly cue the viewer. As a result, Don’t Look Now is considered a highly articulate piece of cinema that establishes a dramatic and in-depth account of the psychology of grief through powerful imagery and its intricately woven plot
Scott told CineVue that he feels the success of the film’s unique style is a result of the close working relationship that existed between himself as screenwriter and its director, Roeg. He said that “if you don’t share the exact same vision, it is like setting out on a journey on two boats; all you need to be is half of a degree apart and you’ll end up on different continents.”
It is safe to say this close relationship seemed to work out as Don’t Look Now is regarded as an importantly innovative piece of cinema, both aesthetically and thematically and, as a result of some it’s more controversial moments it remains a topic of discussion to this date. With its release on DVD and Blu-ray marking its third coming, Don’t Look Now is clearly still as relevant and intriguing today as it was upon its initial release.
Scott attributes the films continuing importance in part to the timeless nature of the location in which it was shot – Venice – but also because its themes are still relevant and continue to unsettle an audience, which is hard to argue with when the catalyst for the psychological trauma that unfolds is the death of a child.
One of the films key features is the aforementioned, fluid handling of time frames that manages to repeatedly displace its audience in a manner that continuously asks them to rethink their understanding of it. The themes and open-ended nature of the film’s narrative give it an aura of being from the past whilst still significantly relevant to the present, and the jarring nature of its subject matter will surely enable Don’t Look Now to have a significant impact on audiences and filmmakers of the future.