Look Both Ways
Drummed into us by our parents and repeated by us to any children in our care, the admonition to “look both ways” before crossing the street is pretty good advice. In a linear world, it might keep us out of harm’s way. But in the real world, danger can arrive from any direction, even from within, and the constant target is always oneself.
Look Both Ways is a film about fear and mortality, about imagined danger and about real danger. And it’s about how we humans, represented by a handful of characters, respond to death and the fear of death.
Look Both Ways comes to us from Australia and before I go much further, let me urge you not to miss this beautiful work of art. If you’re like me, upon hearing that a film is about death and about fear that sometimes borders on paranoia, you might just say – “OK, sure, but later”. That would be a mistake. See this one on the big screen where the visual details will be crisp and you won’t miss the nuanced expressions of the actors.
The film opens with a television news report of a massive train wreck. There are many fatalities and many passengers trapped in the debris.
The scene changes and we are inside a moving train, witnessing the world through the eyes of a passenger whose name we will not learn for awhile, even though she is the female lead. She imagines disaster everywhere. We see what she imagines, and it’s in the form of beautifully rendered animation. We will learn, shortly, that she’s an artist, and that she earns her living by painting covers for a greeting card company that seems to specialize in bromides for the bereaved.
The scene changes again. Now we are in a doctor’s office. A man stares at an X-ray of his chest. He’s just been diagnosed with cancer. In a series of still photographs, the history of his life flashes rapidly before him.
So, in about three minutes writer / director Sarah Watt has provided us with several essential realities and the frame within which Look Both Ways will unfold. One character lives a life of full of fear based on imaged, or possible disasters. Another must confront his mortality based on an actual danger. And in the background, a disaster that has killed dozens and trapped dozens more plays out on the television. If empathy were governed by mathematics, our concerns would be with the massive train wreck, with the human toll of it. But Sarah Watt knows the limits of the heart. It’s the fate of one child trapped in a well, or one character struggling to survive that captures our attention. It is the fate of the single individual with whom we can commiserate, because that one human life is always our own.
As it happens, there is a fatal accident on a smaller scale that occurs a few minutes later in the film. It is the death of this one, unnamed man, struck by a train while trying to rescue his dog, that ties all of the characters together.
If my description to date still seems to indicate that this is a dour film, I tell you now it isn’t the bummer you may be imagining. There are more laughs than tears to be had by watching Look Both Ways.
And here’s a tip. Keep your eyes open for the few short scenes in which the mother of the male protagonist appears. If anyone in this film can be said to speak for the writer and director, I believe it is the male lead’s mother. Her reading of what life should be about is brilliant and humane. This film is brilliant and humane. Do not miss it.