Today you worked on the essay question below:
“The animation and photomontages mean that we learn about Nick and Meryl more than other characters in the film.” Discuss.
This is what one of last year's students wrote for the same question.
“Look Both Ways” exposes subjective life experiences through a range of innovative filmic devices. The film unearths intrinsic human vulnerabilities and delves into the hidden mystiques of the human psyche through the artistic utilisation of cinematography and film techniques. The picturesque animations and photomontages internalised by main protagonists, Nick and Meryl explore their psychological framework, revealing their preoccupation with “death” in an immediate manner. The generally explicit voyeuristic nature of this film, allows the viewer to seek insight into the multitude of negative and positive human experiences. Other film methods employed such as the careful construction of mise en scene, flash backs, dialogue, camera positioning, music and repeated motifs explore the fine details of individual life experiences and human existence as a whole.
The delicately crafted animatronics exhibit the character of Meryl. The lyrical nature of her internal visions reveals her artistic background. The pencil medium fosters a notion of personality and intimacy. Her illustrations delve into the deep recesses of her psyche, exposing her obsessive preoccupation with death itself. She is fatalistic almost nihilistic, imagining disaster at every turn. She is afraid of being alone. She is scared of pushing the boundaries, and leaving her circle of comfort. She harbours unnatural levels of paranoia which are represented in her internal animations. They symbolise a disabling paralysis, colonizing her psyche ultimately preventing her from living a normal life. Perplexed by the meaning of her own life, she visualises herself drowning in mediocrity. Her negative and self-defeating outlook on life is clear in her imaginings of doom and bad fates befalling her, such as drowning in the sea, being eaten by vicious sharks, being crushed by falling trains, gunmen, floors that open up, disabled triplets and AIDS. Meryl’s animations sculpt her self-deprecating and fearful nature.
Internal photomontages convey the complexities of Nick’s psychological interior and life. Nick sees the world through photographs, reflecting his photojournalist occupation. His inability to articulate coherently forces him to conjure his inner emotions in his internal photographs. The news of his cancer impacts dramatically on Nick’s psyche and perception on the world. He begins to see his new situation in a different way and reread his life from the perspective of his illness. The photomontage of Nick’s life which flickers in his subconscious indicates his reflections on mortality. The animation of the cancer cells growing into tumours shows the unhealthy level of fear that Nick’s conscious is enduring. The 30 second flashback showing danger signs and power lines when Nick is recalling his past exposure to carcinogens reveal his trepidation. Photos establish the character of Nick, highlighting his predicament and reclusive temperament.
Physical expression is an element of mise en scene. It conveys a range of human complexities and gives an insight into individual characters’ lives. Julia and the train driver both express themselves through movements and distraught appearances. Julia is the bereaved partner of Rob and acts as a barometer for others who are also coming to terms with their own moral dilemmas. She experiences the seven signs of grief in three days. She goes through shock, numbness, isolation then finally healing. She shows her built up rage as she scrunches up the obituary paper and aggressively pushes past her dog. While the train driver’s body language and sheer strained facial expressions reveal the level of pain and guilt he is enduring. His disapproving glances towards the washing line full of dismal black t-shirts covered in skulls and through his almost aggressive glares show the distance between him and his son. In final scenes, Julia and the train driver’s physical gestures in the rain reflect their true feelings of grief and sorrow. The silence between them and strained facial expressions allow them to connect with each other. It is in this scene that the healing process begins for both characters.Anxious body language exposes the fragilities of individual characters.
Subdued lighting compliments the aspect of despair resonating from certain characters.
Although Nick and Phil are both shot in darkness, Julia is more prominently captured in dimmed lighting. In the first scene, the side lighting and contrived computer reflections sculpt Nick’s distressed facial expressions. While the muted lighting in the scene in Phil’s office creates a sombre atmosphere. He is literally “waiting by streetlights”, as there are beams of street lights through the windows of his work. He is also metaphorically “waiting”, emphasising his chosen isolation. Lighting plays a major role in portraying Julia’s despondent character.
Side lighting sculpts the contours of Julia’s pain inflicted face as she hides in the darkness inside her house. She remains in semi-darkness as she stands silently in her unforgiving industrial environment. In segment two, the glowing light from the windows in the background highlight her dislocation. The warmth of the light is something inaccessible, as she quivers in the darkness. Lighting acts as a foreboding force, metaphorically highlighting personal anguish.
Costuming of characters establishes individual qualities. The most poignant character whose personality is portrayed through clothing is the train driver’s son. In the first scene, dressed in black, assuming the rebellious counter-culture pose of a Goth the son seems to share a problematic relationship with his father. His thick black make-up and dispirited presence show his character as being stereotypically rebellious and dejected from his family and society. His clothing however also exposes his journey to maturity. In segment ten the son reveals his true self, without saying a word, by rather, stripping away his facial mask and costume and entering his father’s space on camera. He changes his Goth-punk clothes for neat casual attire and flattens his spiky hair in an effort to please his father. He evolves as a character, altering his appearance and attitude. Clothing holds a key to individual traits.
The setting in which each character is filmed in, is a crucial element in establishing individual experiences. The environment each character inhabits accentuates the idea of isolation and individual seclusion. There are certain settings which clearly indicate the character personalities. Andy’s apartment is a poignant indicator of his inner life: it is disorganized, entirely structured around work and isolated. The pictures of violent car crashes on his walls represent his interest in the theme of death. The fast food packages in the background of Phil’s setting reveal his work-acholic nature. Nick’s controlled, restrained and compartmentalised life style is seen in his apartment setting, where he works on the kitchen table in a quite methodical manner. Meryl’s studio apartment is a chaotic, projecting her flying by the seat of her pants and of a life without a strong frame of reference, even though the nature of her work involves disorder and turmoil. While, Anna’s apartment is chaotic and has a rather youthful essence with a skeleton playing a guitar in the background. Our surroundings sculpt and reveal our true selves.
Verbal expression reveals character’s thoughts and emotions. The dialogue of particular characters provides an insight into their personal traits and out looks on life. Meryl’s gauche expressions render her as being insecure and often overtly honest. Her description of the accident scene she witnessed reflects her choice of inappropriate language. “It juts kept coming; like a freight train”. While Anna’s false starts and hesitations when she says “I didn’t want…” then changes to “I don’t want a baby”, to Andy, show her indecision. Similarly, Phil rolls out stereotypical platitudes for cancer sufferers when he finds out about Nick’s cancer. He tells Nick, “I mean, I think- apparently- it’s good to stay up, and optimistic” He tries to empathise with Nick but fails. In contrast, the train driver and Julia remain silent throughout the entire film except for when they reconcile. Their silence conveys the idea that perhaps words cannot always express grief properly. The lyric “if I slipped into the quiet” synchronises with the image of Julia and her emotions in segment 2. The death of Rob has had a debilitating affect on Julia. Her personal heartache and inner turmoil has ultimately “silenced” her. She is left empty and unable to communicate to others. Communication has the propensity to uncover human sensibilities and experiences through its inexplicit messages.
Camera positioning intensifies the complexities of the individual characters’ consciousness. All characters are framed within a frame at some point during the film. Meryl is framed within her window frame as she images Nick as a gun man, showing her fearful nature. Likewise, Anna is standing in the door way of her apartment when the lyrics “standing in doorways” plays. It suggests how she is trapped and troubled by her predicament of whether to abort her pregnancy or not. Julia and the train driver are main characters who are framed. In segment 2, Julia is framed within the photo itself which is within the computer screen, accentuating her distance from the viewer. While the train driver is framed within a frame as he walks through his house. They are both unreachable and trapped in an impenetrable emotional sphere. Other camera techniques such as oblique camera angles in segment ten: connectivity, show Annas looking down on Andy, emphasising her maturity and his callous and irresponsible personality. The filming technique of framing helps shape the characters identities.
The filmic device of flashbacks opens a window into the lives of certain characters. It is through Nick’s sub-memories that the true identities of Nick’s parents are revealed. Since most of the flashbacks of Jim were of him near death, they add to Nick’s negative outlook. In one of the recollections, Jim jokingly says to Nick, “I might be Buddhist this week”. Jim tries to hide his true feelings and find comfort in something known, religion. Nick’s father, Jim is portrayed as being determined even when incapable of simple human activities like going to the toilet. He says “I just wanted to go to the toilet” as he sits on the floor. Joan on the other hand is presented as a compassionate yet drained wife, who views her husband’s desire for independence as frustrating stating “why do you have to be so god dam independent?!” These internal memories expose the fragile nature of individual characters.
Musical interludes connecting with repeated motif accentuate universal suffering and human existence. Non-diagetic sounds magnify the importance of each character’s existence in this film. The first musical interlude, “Crashing- Gersey” in the segment 2, delves into the psychological and social dilemmas of each character. The melancholic yet sympathetic music renders the scene with a relative sensitive and intimate mood. Soft music, played in a minor key is used in the opening shots, paired with the wide shot of the pigeons flocking collectively together silhouetted against the evening sky. The emphasised tonal qualities of the fluttering birds suggest the temporary nature of our society. The splitting of the bird flock as a result of the powerlines and pylon is symbolic in this scene. It serves to illustrate the fractured nature of modern society and the overwhelming events persistent in the contemporary world. The last scene, uplifting music plays while the flutter of birds is highlighted, putting forth the idea that each character’s live is better, and metaphorically ‘taking off’.Melodic film methods explore the existence of each character collectively.
A rich sense of human community and spirit is espoused through the technical construction of the film Look Both Ways. It is apparent through the musical and visual nature of the film, that each character is given individual prominence. The significant filmic devices employed set up a glorifying affirmation of human existence centring on the lives of others. The cohesive filmic ties highlight the underlying predicaments of life through the exploration of individual stories.