Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fear of death


“Look Both Ways” shows that a fear of death can prevent people from living fully”. Discuss

Written by last year's star student - she got 49!


“Look Both Ways” is a brutal representation of how the fear of ones mortality and other significant human fears can hamper a meaningful existence. It also demonstrates how once an individual’s predicament is overcome it can inspire a full engagement with life. The omnipresent concept of death is prevalent via the unnatural level of paranoia in individuals, ultimately paralysing but also influencing their perception of life. The fear of death is explored on many levels, through unexpected tragedies and the inevitability of internal suffering, which prevents the full enjoyment of life. However, it is also through the trepidation of personal isolation, assuming responsibility, making correct life choices, accepting reality, the unknown and life itself that spurs individuals to exert control over their circumstances. The film exposes an in-depth reading regarding the pitfalls of life, appealing to worldwide human sentiments and wants, and our doubts and anxieties.

The trepidation of unpredicted fatality reveals human vulnerabilities that impact upon on ones life. Death, a reigned acquaintance with fate, failure and social ineptness accompany Meryl’s spirit. Her fascination with disaster shows her fatalistic nature. Through her subjective response to the world and imagination, it is abundantly clear that death has a crippling affect on her fragile emotional state. Her internal animations delve into the deep reassesses of her psyche, exposing her obsessive preoccupation with death itself. Her visions of unexpected death symbolise a disabling paralysis, which prevents her from living a normal life. Her visions are treated in a self-deprecating manner and there is a mounting sense that what she “sees” cannot hurt her. Her lie is built around an innate awareness of momento-morie -remember you death; remember that you are mortal; be prepared to face your marker; for at any moment death may be visited upon you. 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. She is aware of all the worse case scenarios that could result from her actions and as a result lives in her thoughts rather than in the moment. Meryl overcomes her fear of death through her connection with Nick. She tests her fears by allowing her relationship with Nick to grow. She transforms from an introverted reclusive to a self-assured human. Resolving her paranoia of death allows her life to prosper with Nick. The terror of unpredictable bad fates can restrict life. It is only when this fear is defeated can one truly enjoy their life.

The fear of ones own mortality as a result of terminal illness coerces individuals to reassess the importance of their life. Nick saw his cancer diagnosis grave, helplessly asking “what are my chances?”. Since his father was not cured of his cancer, Nick sees his chances of survival as bleak. He is fearful of death and sees everyday occurrences as strange and macabre. He becomes obsessed with his disease and starts to “see death everywhere”; a hearse, butcher shop’s showing pigs heads and a sick boy in a wheel chair. He is verbally paralysed, unable to communicate with his peers, constantly viewing others through a framework of illness, “looking at people and seeing them dying”. This is evident in his envisioning of Andy having a brain aneurysm. The internet animations of cancer cells growing into tumours internalised by Nick show the excessive level of fear that his conscious is enduring. The staccato photomontages of his life journey, carcinogens which may have been ingested, skin cancers and the flashbacks of his father last days, all accentuate Nick’s personal anxieties concerning his illness. His fear of his own mortality thwarts his ability to connect with other human beings and enjoy life. His phobia of death forces him see his life through pessimistic eyes, believing he “cant start anything” with Meryl. It is only when Nick breaks away from his psychological restraints and tells Meryl of his disease that his life becomes more positive. He begins to be aware that death is all around him, that it is part of the human condition and that to preserve and embrace life is the only way. The final photomontage of Nick recovering from cancer depicts his gratification of his new life.


It is only when the disabling apprehension of ones morality is conquered, that one can truly live.
Fear of seclusion like death can be an all-pervading force subsequently hindering yet enriching an individuals life experiences. Both Meryl and Nick are characters who fear being alone. They are scared of pushing the boundaries, and leaving her circle of comfort. Meryl is lonesome and “wishes to be in a relationship”, as she “doesn’t have a partner to share anything with”. Yet her apprehensive temperament prevents her from living life to its fullest and seeking connections with other people. While Nick’s sense of isolation from the world is emphasised in this scene, as he wakes up on “cancer printouts” signifying he must battle his disease alone. He didn’t have any intimate relationships with his peers and so told Phil, his boss initially of his diagnosis. It is Nick and Meryl’s fear of being isolated and shared interest on death that draws the two together. They are drawn together through their cynical beliefs of life. When Meryl is hurt by Nick’s comment about “not being able to have a relationship”, she chastises herself for being too polite and all her fears and loneliness well up. She asks Nick, “what if it is shallow and stupid to be lonely and to want somebody to like you?”. It is at this point they realise the importance of one another. They provide each other with comfort, support, and security and consequently defeat their fear of being alone. Anxieties provoked by the concept of social ineptness can be damaging on an individuals life. Rising above these paranoias enhances ones life.

The undercurrents of individual’s psychological burdens can also prevent a joyous existence. By eliminating the fear of taking control of ones responsibilities can one live fully. Andy is a regretful and bitterly antagonised journalist who’s extremely critical outlook forbids him from living in the moment and being open minded to the array of possibilities in life. His initial inability to take on responsibility of Anna’s pregnancy shows how he is fearful of making the same mistakes like in his last relationship. When Anna tells him that she is pregnant he says provocative statements such as “Did you do this on purpose?”. He is paranoid of accepting his mistakes and changing thus making him “hate his life” and seeking advice from Nick, asking him “if he’d ever got anyone pregnant?”. His newspaper article about “male suicide” serves to depict how he is apprehensive about his life, his family issues and work related problems. His adversarial and selfish nature causes his relationships to be tinged with hostility and to be structured through arguments and acrimony. Andy is seen as acting in bad faith as he is not prepared to assume responsibility for his actions and consequences. His denial may account for his bad moods and belligerence. However, once he puts his problems into perspective to Julia’s bereavement and Nick’s diagnosis, he wants to amend his relationship with Anna and lead a future with her. By acting responsibly, Andy leads a joyous life with his new baby and Anna. Fearing responsibility weakens an individual’s grasp on life. Once this fear is defeated individuals can live fully.

The fear of making incorrect life decisions is a menacing force on an individual’s life, consequently hindering full enjoyment. Also, by overcoming these fears, individuals are encouraged to embrace life. Initially Anna is apprehensive about having a child. She is fearful of whether to keep the baby will be the right choice in the future. In the scene where she tells Andy she is pregnant her body language and speech reflect her indecision as she says “I didn’t want…” then changes to “I don’t want a baby”. In another scene, she puts forth the unusual proposal that Andy “can take it home- you be in charge… you could work from home, you said, you wanted to do that” and that she pay maintenance. She is scared of making the wrong decision. She tells Andy that she did not plan getting pregnant and that “things just happen”. She says to Andy that “not everyone has an agenda”, showing her alternate way of viewing life. She believes that there is not always a logical explanation or reason behind why events occur. Although undecided whether to keep the baby or not, Anna quits smoking. She also starts to watch gospel on the television suggesting she is finally understanding her position in life. However, once Andy wants to be apart of her life and take care of her and the child, both their lives flourish, as seen in the final montage. The internal dread of making incorrect choices in life can ultimately control how one leads their life.


The fear of devastation common in modern society colonises the psyche of most, as a result encumbers their existence. Striking down these fears enlightens the lives of many. The characters, Cathy and Phil also serve the function of building on fear in society, as she is particularly overprotective of her children and he fears the common disease of “cancer” as a result of Andy’s diagnosis. Cathy doubts Andy’s capability with looking after their children, which is shown when she gives a list of instructions to him on Sunday. Cathy is always trying to do more than one thing at a time such as talking to Andy on the phone while cooking and checking her daughters TV viewing. She is very protective of her children, “not allowing them to eat ice cream”. This is seen in the scene where she makes Maddie “put Saddle Club back on” as she did not want her to witness the awful “Arnow Hill train disaster”. Her fear is continuous and doesn’t cease to exist. While Phil’s paranoia of instant change as a result of smoking and losing contact with his family, urges him “to give up smoking” and reorder his priorities in his life. He overcomes this fear by becoming more involved in his family, buying his wife Jasmine “flowers” and his daughter a “cricket bat which she had always wanted”. Universal suffering elicits uneasy feelings amongst many, controlling the way they live their lives.

Internal anxieties can restrict ones ability to accept reality, preventing them from living life to the fullest. It is when this fear is defeated that individuals’ lives improve. Meryl’s philosophy was that there was a primary order in the universe and that there were some rational forces underlying random events. The concept of fate is explored through the character of Meryl who raises the spectre of destiny, through various perplexing statements. When she claims, “Maybe it was meant to be”, she suggests that perhaps the death was not such a negative thing. She strives to find a rational meaning behind the death of Rob and make it seem insignificant, ultimately protecting herself from misery. She is a quite vulnerable character, whose passive attitude towards the world and her own destiny forbids her from exerting any level of control over her circumstances. She tries to shut her self out from all “the shit in the world” and paint a pleasant, livable scenario for herself. It is clear in the statement she says to Linda, “I didn’t actually see him fall” highlights her fear of living and her desire to distance herself from the actuality of the world. She therefore secludes herself from reality, pending her frustration through her paintings. She overcomes this fear by extending her relationship with Nick, and becoming more open to lives possibilities. Fear of reality, pervasively destroys life and can only be mediated through defeating this fear.

The inbuilt terror of the unknown limits a person’s enjoyment of life. It is only when individuals accept the concept of mysterious nature of life that one can truly live. Meryl feared unfamiliar individuals and as a result was restrained in life by a “politeness hostage gene”, living in her reclusive domain. Initially meeting Nick, Meryl anxiously asks “are you following me?”. She was terrified of breaking away from her comfort zones and opening her self up to a world of opportunities. However, built up frustration with not knowing what her life will end up like she tells Nick to “piss off” and personally faces death when she is nearly hit by a car. It is in this moment her personal anxieties which weighed down her life are gone and moves forward with a life with Nick. Like Meryl, Julia and the train driver fear the unknown outcomes of their lives. The uncertain fragility of life prevented both individuals from initially find optimism. The death of Rob silenced them, plaguing their psyche with a despondent outlook on the future. Their fears are portrayed in their strained facial expressions. It is only when their grief has subsided that they emerge from their isolation bubble and re-engage in life. Their reconciliation is a symbol of their positive perception on life and desire to move on. The sheer dread of the unknown hampers ones full life experiences. Once this fear is overcome, life is again livable.

Fear of living a meaningless existence can hinder a person’s life. Conversely, conquering these fears enhances life. Apprehension of living life is linked to the philosophical concept of existentialism which questions the meaning of life and what it truly means to be human. The inbuilt paranoia of living a futile existence stems from the concept that life is only lived once. Since Meryl, Nick and Jim are “not religious” life appears infinitely more precious. Meryl’s discontent with her uneventful life is depicted in the statement “I don’t own a yacht and I’ve never been on a world cruise”. She defeats her fear by making contact with Nick and celebrating her artwork at an art exhibition as seen in the final photomontage. Meanwhile, Nick is scared of living a worthless existence. Since he can easily lose his life due to “testicular cancer”, he fears that life is somewhat meaningless when “everybody can gather-round-and-hug-each-other” and forget the importance of life. It is Joan’s words of wisdom to Nick that serve as the life-affirming crux of the film. She puts forth the argument, that “it doesn’t matter how life ends, it matters how it was”. She confirms the importance of life by highlighting that everyone must confront death, deal with it and try and go on with our “lives without dwelling on it”. Nick then seizes the moment and impulsively seeks to further his relationship with Meryl. The fear of an insignificant existence is further established in the character of Jim, who states “I might be a Buddhist this week”. His search for religious enlightenment shows he fears not only his mortality but the meaning of his life. Jim dies before he truly overcomes his fear. The trepidation of a pointless life negatively renders a person’s life. Overcoming this fear, allows one live fully.

Perpetuating fear restricts individual’s experiences as human beings. The most prominent paranoias is of ones own mortality. Death is an omnipotent force, infiltrating on the human psyche. Unexpected or recognized fatality hinders the ability of individuals to truly live. It overwhelms individual consciousness, attacking their sensibilities. However, it is also through the fear of being alone; acting responsibly, decision making, acknowledging reality, and the mysterious nature of life as whole, that can prevent the full enjoyment of life. These debilitating anxieties corrode human existence. They prevent individuals from furthering their relationships, expressing their understanding on the world and breaking away from their reclusive domains. It is only once these fears have been defeated that one can truly engage in life.




1 comment:

jay said...

this helped me so much, thankyou