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Look both ways essay

‘At the end of Look Both Ways, the film-maker convinces viewers that the characters are capable of looking at their lives in new ways.’

Do you agree?

Life is full of unpredictable circumstances that have the ability to affect our lives significantly. Director Sarah Watt, through her award winning film Look Both Ways, explores some of these events and the ways in which individuals endeavour to cope with them. In order to survive the contingent possibilities of life, it is essential that we embrace these challenges and battle on, trying our best to overcome the tragic situation that we are experiencing. Despite the shocking awakenings experienced by protagonists Nick, Meryl, Julia and the train driver, they eventually come to terms with their dilemmas and learn to perceive life in a positive way by accepting their fates. This emphasizes the ultimate message of Look Both Ways, which is that life should be experienced fully and without fear, however long or short it turns out to be.

Throughout the course of the film, the protagonists are confronted with the possibility of death through various incidents that challenge and question their own mortality. Nick’s unexpected cancer diagnosis leaves him in a state of shock and desperation, undoubtedly heightened by the doctor’s insensitive and carefree attitude. Nick’s boss, Phil, responds to the news by dismissively asking him ‘skin cancer or something?’ and is unable to offer words of support that Nick evidently needs. As the film progresses, it is clear that Nick’s lack of a close relationship with anyone makes it impossible for him to find consolation or share his burden. This loneliness prompts him to make a connection with Meryl, who is also yearning for a relationship but is wary of making herself more vulnerable. Meryl is struggling to survive her own share of catastrophes. Having returned from the funeral of her father, she has the misfortune of witnessing Rob’s tragic death. Julia’s confusion and panic as she identifies the dead man as Rob is evident when she drops her shopping, and her painful grief is captured in Nick’s front-page photograph. Even though Rob is nothing more than a stranger to the train driver, he experiences similar emotions to Julia as he feels powerless and agonizes over the fact that (although completely innocent) Rob has died in his hands. These inevitable exposures to the perils of life initially (and understandably) leave the protagonists in a state of severe shock and depression, however through the course of the film they endeavour to accept it as a part of life.

Even though the characters in Look Both Ways are interconnected through death in one form or another, they each have their own unique ways of dealing with it. Watt cleverly uses cartoon animations and photomontages to represent the innermost thoughts and feelings of Nick and Meryl, as these mediums prove as an outlet for them to release their pent-up emotions. Meryl’s bleak and sinister imaginations are omnipresent, and her preoccupation with death is symbolized by sharks that appear throughout her hand-drawn animations. Her paintings also portray the grisly aspects of the ocean, such as being surrounded by sharks and drowning. Meryl paints as a coping mechanism as she tells Nick that her art is ‘cheaper than therapy’. Nick’s past and his intense fear of cancer is effectively presented through photomontages, which is his coping mechanism and also reflect his occupation as a photojournalist. The repulsive montages of the cancer spreading emphasize the severity of the disease and Nick’s terror of his own impending death. Furthermore, the guilt and angst of the train driver is seen through his beaten posture, downcast and sombre mood and restless agitation, which has accompanied him since the accident. However, his initially ‘rebellious’ son acts with surprising empathy and companionship towards his father, which strengthens the train driver and allows some meaning to be instilled in his life. The caring gesture of his son bringing him a beer, coupled with the fact that he accompanies him to visit Julia and apologize, provides the driver with the means to cope with the situation and release some of the pent up guilt and grief that has burdening. Similarly, suffering through the stages of grief, Julia’s heart-wrenching sadness is seen through her haunted eyes and frozen face, a clever direction used by Watt to express Julia’s shock of the tragic way in which Rob died. Moving along the stages, her anger was seen when Julia kicks the dog (who she really loves) and when she angrily destroys Meryl’s simple memorial. While Nick and Meryl survive the ‘bombshells’ of life by incorporating vivid artistic mediums, Julia and the train driver’s suffering through the stages of grief slowly prepares them to accept Rob’s death.

During the course of the weekend, the protagonists ultimately learn that death is a part of life, and accepting it is the only way to persevere and embrace the possibility of a full life.

Joan’s succinct comment that ‘everyone has to find a way to face their own death. And life’ enable Nick to understand that a fear of death deteriorates the quality of life, and similarly, after he sees a pillar with flowers wrapped around, the short photomontage that follows depicts Nick’s realization that death is an imminent part of life. Likewise, after a weekend of unexpected deaths, fearful imaginations and awkward conversations, Meryl finally decides to embrace life. Her acceptance is demonstrated when she is sitting in a niche on a wall after her fight with Nick, crying, and she puts her hands up to the air, in a surrendering motion. Although she is soaked and hurt (both physically and emotionally), her cartoon imaginations are now positive. Nick and Meryl find each other and both apologize and laugh, before embracing. Similarly, the train driver’s acceptance of the situation occurs when he visits Julia and apologizes in the heavy rain and gives her a sympathy card that communicates a message about taking life ‘one step at a time’. Julia accepts the untimely death of Rob when she acknowledges the apology and says through her tears, ‘it wasn’t your fault’. The rain seems to wash away these protagonists’ fears and strengthen them with new life, and after their brief yet meaningful apologies, they are able to perceive life with a much more optimistic attitude.

The unforseen possibilities of life causes chaos and leaves its victims groping in the dark, struggling to grasp the light that would bring them back to a more content place. This notion is explored thoroughly in Look Both Ways, and Watt’s depiction of Nick, Meryl, Julia and the train driver represents the vulnerability most people feel towards life. It is evident through these characters, who are dealing with the unpredictability of life in one form or another, that the best way to overcome the shock and grief is to accept the situation and try to make the best out of it, something all these characters ultimately achieve. Life in general will always be full of highs and lows, but being able to accept the lows and move on is a mark of a strong individual, a message that Look Both Ways strongly departs with.

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