Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't Look Now (1973), dir. Nicholas Roeg **Minor Spoilers**

A profound disclosure on grief and belief. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie turn in deeply charismatic performances as a married couple we catch currently attempting soldiering on after the accidental, painfully meaningless death of their young daughter (which is depicted in a short prologue). Julie Christie creates a troublingly flesh-and-blood character: an attractive, light-hearted woman who unfortunately has this curse of an altogether gentle, childlike personality, and thus gets buried in all the neurotics and psychologies which we intuit afflict just such easily receptive persons with little capacity for deep, angry, self-aware thoughts. She indulges in a blissful ignorance of the harsh realities of death, taking up with the Psychic Sisters and throwing herself fully into their lead-ons. She is shown to be taking pills to "level her out," her fragility in that respect taken under the guarded, competent wing of men in white coats, although she is inclined to disregard their role - that is, chemicals as God, her feelings and emotions as mere neuro-chemical dictates - in lieu for the belief of the supernatural and the deep comfort of her persisting agony, and also ecstasies (those ranging from lovemaking to the brilliance of the Blind Sister's visions of her dead daughter). The film's famous sex scene manifests a brilliant summation of the sublime of living, from the intercourse (with the subliminal concession to cynics that we are ruled by the release of our hormones), to the re-awakenings (and dress up) of vanity, to Sutherland lubricating himself with some gin.

Sutherland, as her husband, her lover, plays the opposite - a person with the capacity for deeply burdening thoughts, cynicism, and resignations. Sex and ceremony, science and religion, bureaucratic procedure and pure intuition interweave in the film, as pragmatic opiates for the suppression or propagation of deluded sentiments - coping mechanisms in both minds of blissed naivete and hard-edged realism. But when Sutherland finally indulges in sentiments, the chillingly grim message is: "Look where it gets him!"

I have read Daphne du Maurier's short story as well, and it's a nasty little one. Movies tend to be the indelicate ones, between them and the source literature being adapted, but surprisingly, du Maurier's story strikes the amped-up power chord, playing up the ending (which is exceedingly similar between story and film) with a practically flicking sardonic tongue, embittered 1st person prose, and acknowledgment of the brazen crassness of the non-sequitur. The flippancy with which du Maurier describes her final, shockingly random reveal and "Fuck me" realization is contrasted to the more elegiac, operatic treatment in the film.

Don't Look Now - 9/10
Fabulous tie-in book cover; expression is perfect for conveying Christie's character as the addled and innocent, her bruised, junkie-like complexion suggesting a withdrawal from the drug that is her not fathoming existence's most deeply burdening realities.

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