You Can’t Miss This: Don’t Look Now

By Keri Johnson, Contributor
[Paramount; 1973]

Don’t Look Now is Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 masterpiece that viewers know, but haven’t watched. 

Don’t Look Now is the story of grieving couple John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) who travel to Venice, where John has been commissioned to work. The couple encounters two sisters, one a blind medium, who claims to be in contact with the Baxters’ deceased daughter, Christine. Laura is happy to communicate with their lost child, but John sees Laura and the medium as foolish—until he starts seeing glimpses of Christine throughout the city. John Baxter chases Christine’s spirit, against his better judgment. 

Read more: Movie Review: Us

Laura Baxter revels in her grief. Laura has accepted that her daughter is dead and never returning—so much to the extent that she believes she is communicating with a ghost. 

On the other hand, John Baxter is a man who cannot escape his fate. John is a doomed man, trying to escape grief and chase closure. He begs to speed up the grieving process without experiencing his emotions, and it is his ultimate downfall. 

Viewers learn from the film that they cannot evade grief—it will come for them, with a vengeance, and tear their lives away.

Though it may seem dated, Don’t Look Now has something no film has since captured. It is utterly unique, dreamlike, and haunting. The film has an ominous atmosphere; lighting conveys a certain sense of doom and dread, music is minimal but at times surging. It is a piece of ’70s supernatural horror, with jumpy but strong editing and dramatic visuals. 

Modern audiences might recognize themes of chasing grief from Ari Aster’s 2018 hit, Hereditary. Aster has even publicly cited Don’t Look Now as an influence on Hereditary

Like Hereditary, motifs of grief are constant throughout Don’t Look Now. The characters, the music and the imagery all drench the viewer in grief. 

Grief also takes human form in the unforgettable performances of Sutherland in Don’t Look Now and Toni Collette in Hereditary. Though Aster accomplished something new with his film, it doesn’t do Don’t Look Now any justice—nothing is as good as the old stuff. 

Aside from its impact on modern filmmaking, Don’t Look Now is infamous for a sex scene that received an X-rating, though most modern viewers will find it more sensual than shocking. 

Don’t Look Now makes for a perfect movie night. The final scenes are somewhat ambiguous and ultimately ask viewers to piece together the images they were presented.  

It leaves viewers with something to talk about. The film asks audiences to think about what actually happened. With a keen eye and attention to detail, it is pretty easy to figure out. Viewers will want to discuss the film afterward, and might even want to re-watch.

The film is available for rent on Amazon and other streaming services and is also available on DVD from Alden Library

Watch the trailer here:

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