Look Both Ways | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Look Both Ways 

The Bottom of the World

Death is everywhere in Australian writer/director Sarah Watt's Look Both Ways ... especially in the mind of its protagonist, Meryl, a bored and restless landscape illustrator who imagines the worst all around her.

We meet Meryl (Justine Clarke) right after her father's funeral. During her ride home, some quick animated cutaways, in the style of her own paintings, show trains crashing, cars hitting pedestrians, and a man strangling a woman ... her ... on a bright sunny day. Of course, there's bad news all over TV, and on the front page of the local newspaper. Meryl is so consumed by thanatos that she derides her own wristwatch for promising to be "shock proof." As if.


Then, Meryl witnesses a man getting hit by a train as he runs to catch his dog. She meets a reporter who's investigating whether some so-called accidents are actually suicides, and a photographer, Nick (William McInnes, Watt's husband), who just learned he has testicular cancer that's spread to his lungs. Leaving the scene, Meryl tells Nick that her father's death is just part of the cycle of life. Cut to an animated squib, where she's telling the same thing to two poor black children.


Their lives go on from there, sullenly and rather quietly. On a jog the next day, Nick bumps into Meryl again, and that begins a furtive affair. Nick's boss quits smoking and re-romances his wife. The conductor of the train that killed the man tries to reconcile his guilt. It all ends with a rainstorm, a metaphor for the tears they need to shed to get past their grief. And they all live gloomily, if just a little hopefully, ever after.


"What are we talking about death for?" Meryl asks Nick. "It's not like the good old days when you just ignored the whole concept of it." In fact, you flirted with it: drugs, unprotected sex, fast cars. And in a spat over the somewhat recent death of Nick's father, his mother observes the wisest thing of all: "I couldn't give him my way of coping, and you couldn't give him yours. Everybody has to find a way to face their own death." That pretty much says it.


Look Both Ways was a huge hit in Australia, which probably means that its point of view isn't unique to its creator. Watt is an award-winning animator, hence the wry animated touches in her first live-action film. It's a solid work, if somewhat awkward, and it tries much too hard to depress-cum-inspire. It reminds me of Miranda July's superb Me and You and Everyone We Know, another debut film by an artist changing mediums. But Watt's film is hardly as moving or as stimulating, unless you're of a mind to go with its woeful flow.





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