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Psychological Thriller: "Don't Look Now" (1973)

Updated on November 20, 2016
Rachelle Williams profile image

I'm Rachelle, a.k.a "TheMotleyChick," a lover of eclectic but ordinary people, situations, and topics. I love sharing helpful resources.

John Baxter (Donald Sutherland), his wife, Laura (Julie Christie), and their little girl, Christine, live in an English country home. They also have a son, Nicholas, who is away at boarding school. Shortly after the start of the film, Christine drowns on the grounds of their home.

John and Laura are grief stricken by the death of their little girl, so John chooses to accept a commission in Venice to restore an old church. He thinks the chance to get away from their home will be beneficial for both him and Laura as they try to get through this exceedingly difficult time.

Upon their arrival in Venice, the strange incidents ensue almost immediately. As they are lunching at a restaurant near the church, Laura is approached by two elderly ladies, Heather and Wendy. Heather claims that she has psychic abilities, and although she is blind, she further claims to "see" their deceased child. In the midst of this odd encounter, Laura faints.

Laura is rushed to the nearest hospital, where she reveals to John what Heather told her about their dead child. John is, of course, disbelieving, but Laura is surprisingly enough in better spirits. John doesn't make a huge deal of the incident, he's just happy that Laura seems to be feeling a little bit better.

The couple retire to their hotel, and make love in a much heralded sex scene. Afterwards, they have a pleasant dinner out, but coming home they get lost and separated for a short time. During their separation, John catches a glimpse of what appears to be a young child wearing a glaring red coat very similar to the one Christine was wearing when she died. This "glimpse of red" will become a recurring theme throughout the film.

he next day, the audience learns exactly why Laura's mood has lifted. Apparently, she developed a plan to contact Heather and Wendy to arrange a seance where they attempt to reach Christine. When Laura returns to their hotel, she tells John that she has been in contact with their dead child, and the ghost told her that he is in grave danger and must leave Venice at once.

John and Laura have an argument when he hears what his wife has been up to. In the midst of their argument, a telephone call delivers the news that their son has been in a minor accident at boarding school back in England. Laura departs Venice immediately, while John stays behind to work....who already thinks this is a bad idea?

Later on in the week, John is shocked to see his wife participating in a funeral ritual, accompanied by the two elderly sisters...or, did he really see her there? He doubts himself, so he calls to check on her and he finds out that she never made it there.

Scared, shocked, angry, and worried, John contacts local police to inform them of his wife's disappearance. To make matters worse, there is a serial killer actively stalking the city...and the investigating inspector thinks John is a suspect and has him trailed.

Meanwhile, John takes to the streets of Venice in an effort to find his wife. Once again, he encounters the elfin figure in the read coat, but he has no luck in finding his wife. Later, back at his hotel room, he contacts his son's school for an update on the young man's condition, and he discovers his wife has made it there. He speaks to her and he is assured that she is indeed in England.

Bewildered, John heads to the police station where he informs the police that he has found his wife. However, he finds that the police have hauled Heather down to the station for questioning. Apologetic, John offers to escort her home.

Upon reaching their destination, Heather slips into some sort of weird trance, so John makes an uncomfortable exit, halfway believing the elderly woman is about to attempt some sort of scam on him. As Heather is exiting her trance, she pleads with her sister to go after the man, because she believes something horrible is about to happen to him...but the elderly woman is unable to catch up to the fleeing man.

During his flight away from the strange sisters, John catches yet another glimpse of the childlike figure in the red coat. This time, he gives chase to the figure and it flees...he approaches the child and is shocked to find that the "child" is actually a hideous female dwarf...

What happens next is thrilling indeed. However, you'll have to watch the film to find out...

Controversial Sex Scene

Don't Look Now has become famous for the sex scene involving Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. The scene, which would make some blush even today, was controversial, because it was unusually graphic for its 1973 audience, and it included a rare depiction of cunnilingus in a mainstream film.

Because of the controversial sex scene, the film was given an X rating and banned at certain times in different locations of the world. Today, all the hoopla surrounding the scene has ceased, and the movie can be watched in its entirety.

Rachelle's Film Analysis

"Don't Look Now" is based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, who also wrote another one of my favorite stories, Rebecca, which was also turned into a film directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

"Don't Look Now" was directed by Nicholas Roeg, and since its release in 1973, it has become famous for it's innovative editing style, gripping story line, use of recurring themes and motifs, and unfortunately, it has also become known for a highly controversial sex scene.

The story is depicted in such a manner that leaves the viewer guessing at what's really happening - nothing could be better in a psychological thriller.

Flashes of the couple's deceased child are interwoven in the film, and there is a constant association of water and death, as in the backdrop of the story, the bodies of serial killer victims are dragged out of the watery Venetian canals. In one memorable scene, John fishes a little girl's doll out of the water, just as he did to the body of his lifeless daughter at the beginning of the movie

The dreary imagery, and constant grief and foreboding throughout this film makes it weigh heavily on the consciousness of the viewer. Mistaken identity, doppelgangers, ghosts, clairvoyants, omens in the form of breaking glass and the red coat, freakish individuals and premonition lends to the overall unsettling "look and feel" of the film.

"Don't Look Now" is an occult film that has become a cult classic, and if you love a good story, this one will certainly deliver.

Do you now want to see the film, "Don't Look Now" (1973)?

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