Monday, July 20, 2009

Happiness and despair

Another thematic essay - this time written by one of our 2007 students.

‘Out of nowhere comes either happiness, despair or somewhere in-between.’Is this true of ‘Look Both Ways’?

Sarah Watt’s ‘Look Both Ways’ can be seen as somewhat of a precautionary tale to modern day Australian society, warning us of the stranglehold fear can have on us and how it can keep us from living life happily. The film includes an ensemble cast of ordinary, everyday Australians who face difficult circumstances. While it sees that these circumstances come out of nowhere, Watt ultimately tries to demonstrate that we make our own happiness, luck and create our own circumstances, showing us that it is free will over fate that determines our lives.

When nothing seems to be going right, this is when people believe that the whole world is against them and there’s nothing they can do about it. Watt clearly demonstrates this in ‘Look Both Ways’ through the character of Andy. He is constantly negative and pessimistic. It is mainly shown through his facial expressions and dialogue that nothing seems to go his way, and he believes everybody is out to get him. ‘Did you do this on purpose?’ Birth is meant to be seen as a wonderful thing, a gift. But Andy thinks differently. When Anna tells him she is pregnant, he straight away thinks of it as a burden, and that she did it purposely to make his life miserable. ‘You think everyone has an agenda……’ ‘What, and they don’t?’ We are clearly shown through the mis-en-scene in Andy’s apartment, with junk everywhere, that his life is a mess and that he couldn’t deal with any more children. Although Andy makes the audience feel that children are a burden, and that they ruin your life, this is not the message Watt is trying to show us. She is trying to tell us that even if we are thrown into a difficult situation, we can either decide to accept it and be happy, or stay cynical and pessimistic. Watt makes it clear that we decide whether we are happy or not; it doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. This is demonstrated through Andy’s character’s arc, as he goes from a pessimistic, unhappy man to accepting the birth and becoming slightly happier.

Witnessing death is not something we wish to do, but in witnessing it, we do not have to let it take a stranglehold of fear on us. Although ‘Look Both Ways’ is filled with doom and gloom, Watt shows us that we can still be a happy person, even if death is all around us. Through Meryl we can see that fatality and fear have taken her hostage, shown by the constant animations of extraordinary accidents happening to her, when the opposite in fact happens. The animations make it harder for the audience to relate to her as they are unrealistic and Meryl’s fear is not necessary. ‘Maybe it was meant to be.’ A lot of the time, people try to trick themselves into believing that things will happen and so there is nothing they can do about it, and this is shown through Meryl’s constant reassurance that things happen for a reason and that fate will take its course. But Watt shows us that clearly this is not the case. ‘Contrary to your own belief, you do not hold fate in your own hands.’ People do not have to accept that life is horrible and always will be. Watt demonstrates this to the audience through Meryl’s character’s transformation throughout the film, from a fearful insecure person to a more confident, optimistic person. By deciding to stick by Nick, even if he may die, Watt’s message through Meryl is that life is what you make it.

Cancer is something we never want to experience. If it happens, we ask, why? Ultimately, it seems to come out of nowhere. Cancer is not a choice, and some people start to believe that they deserve it. Sarah Watt demonstrates through Nick, who is diagnosed with testicular cancer, that we can stop living and let cancer take its course, or we can face it front on and challenge it through being positive. Cancer takes Nick in a tight stranglehold shown through the montages of all things from his life flashing before his eyes. ‘So, how long have I got?’ When people hear the word ‘cancer’ they straight away assume death. Nick fears it even more because of his father’s death the same way. But Watt clearly shows us that we have a choice; we can let it kill us miserably, or we can come to peace with ourselves and die happily. Watt demonstrates this through Joan, who experiences the horrible demise of her husband yet manages to stay optimistic. ‘It doesn’t matter how you die. It’s about how you live.’ Watt shows us through this positive outlook, and Nick’s gradual acceptance of his cancer, via a montage at the end of the film of him and Meryl tackling it front on. We are left with the understanding that while cancer can seem to come out of nowhere, our happiness does not. We decide that ourselves.

Although at first impressions the film seems like a tale of how horrible life is, Sarah Watt demonstrates by the end of ‘Look Both Ways’ that this is not the case and it is in fact warning us against believing that life is horrible. She shows us that even though certain circumstances and situations can seem to come out of nowhere, this does not mean that our happiness or despair comes out of nowhere. Watt clearly shows us in the film that we hold fate in our own hands and make our own happiness, regardless of the situations we may face.

This essay is not perfect and I expect you to be able to analyse its strengths and weaknesses. It does answer a question I've been asked recently. How can I use the term mise en scence in an essay?

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