Sunday, June 25, 2006

Movie Report: Look Both Ways

I can't think of another movie that deals with the inevitable end of us all with the frankness and grace of Look Both Ways. The movie, written and directed by an Australian woman, Sarah Watts, is about the way five people deal with death during one weekend in Australia.

The main characters are as follows: Meryl is an illustrator for a greeting card company and an artist, who, on the way home from her father's funeral, witnesses a man hit by a train while trying to save his dog. Nick is a news photographer, who, right after finding out that he has testicular cancer which has metastasized to his lungs, brains and other parts of his body, is sent out to the accident scene to take pictures. Andy is a depressed reporter for the newspaper and is convinced that many deaths that appear to be accidents are actually suicides. Anna is the widow of the man killed in the train accident. And Phil is the engineer of the train that struck the man.

The movie illustrates what a difficult subject death is, when dealt with honestly. No one, in the movie or real life, wants to seriously consider their own demise. I will always remember, 30 years ago, a week before my father died, a fervent Christian convinced that he would go to heaven, a place of unimaginable bliss, talking about his estate, "in case something would happen to me." I was thinking, but, of course, didn't say, "What are you talking about, 'in case,' Dad? You're on your death bed." What I didn't know, and will never know, is whether he was actually thinking "in case," or was using euphemisms to spare my feelings. When I received my own diagnosis of paranasal sinus cancer about three and a half years ago, while waiting to find out my prognosis, I was determined to be forthright and unflinching. It was much easier not to flinch after I learned that my tumor had been caught at a very early stage, surgery would make me better than new and there was a very low probability of the tumor returning.

I thought the movie was exceptionally well made. We see what Meryl is thinking and fearing through the device of animated scenes in the style of the paintings she makes. We see what Nick is thinking and fearing through the device of photographs. Although the movie deals frankly about death, none of the characters really wants to think about it. Although the subject of the movie is morbid, the movie manages to avoid being overly-sentimental and mawkish.

The end of the movie, an epilogue, really, without being labelled as such, consists of a series of photographs that appear to say what happened next, but, as some reviewers have noted, may only be what Nick envisioned happening next. In any event, the end is a little more concession to commercial considerations than to reality for my tastes, but it doesn't spoil the movie.

I don't know if the subject matter will keep people from watching this movie, but it ought not. If the public was willing to watch something maudlin like Love Story which was nominated for Best Picture, then it certainly shouldn't be bothered by Look Both Ways. Although about a difficult subject, this movie is never depressing or sentimental.

My main problem with this movie, as with so many British and Australian movies, is that some of the accents were so thick as to be virtually undecipherable, although this was not true for most of the main characters. I found myself wishing at times that the movie was in a foreign language, so that it would have subtitles and I would know what the actors were saying. But that was a relatively minor complaint and I gave the movie four and one-half stars, shy of the full five stars because of the difficulty in understanding at some parts and the feel good epilogue.


Debra Hope said...

Yes, death is a difficult subject, but so is life. Cliff and I both came to that conclusion when he was so terribly ill, sitting on the couch, barely able to move, waiting for a donor. There comes a point, in such an experience, when death becomes almost desirable because life has become so difficult. Teetering at the edge of death, coming within a week or less (so say the doctors), and then, miraculously, being snatched back, was a hell of a ride. I wouldn’t recommend the experience, but the end result makes life so much more precious and death so much less fearful. Think I'll take a pass on the movie, though.

rdl said...

Great review, sounds interesting, I'll put it on my list. Glad PG hasn't gotten here yet.

Anonymous said...

Did you see "Train Spotting" an English movie with such heavy accents (in English) they actually had subtitles. Maybe it was just for the Southerners.

Death, not a chosen topic, but who can deny it? I will certainly look for the movie, it sounds interesting.

Patry Francis said...

I'm always excited to hear about a thoughtfully made movie. This one sounds great. I know what you mean about the accents though. More than once, I've found myself wishing for subtitles when watching a film in my native language.