Look Both Ways – intro to the film
Summary page …
1. Let’s start at the very beginning … it’s a very good place to start …
When you read you begin with ABC, when you sing, you begin with
do-re-mi …” OK: wrong film, I know. But the title … when and why
do you “look both ways”?
2. Three elements of constructed views: Meryl’s art-comes-to-life;
film/photo montage (like a pinboard/collage of pics); and live
action. Gives us a subjective narration. As opposed to what? How
does this affect how we perceive the events? The characters?
Themes? How are things revealed to us?
3. Look at how many characters’ lives we glimpse – all brought not
much together, but into focus by one event we don’t even see (the
death of the man run over by the train): Nick, Meryl, Andy, Anna,
Phil, Julia (the young widow),the train driver (unnamed) and his
son; and Joan, Nick’s widowed mother. What does this structure
“do” to/for us? What does it suggest about the nature of our
existence? Or about our awareness of what happens to and around
us? Or of the impact of our actions on others?
4. Themes: Fear; Death; Caution/Control; Ways of seeing; Luck/chance
5. Characters – why so many?
h. Train driver & son
6. Ideas – discussion topics –
8. Time-frame – little more than a weekend – note that the end – the
cascade of images compresses heaps of time/events into a very short
9. Essays ... ah well, you knew these were coming!
„We have no light promised us to show our road 100 kilometres away, but we have a light to show
us the next footstep and if we take that we will have a light to show us the one that is to follow‟.
Scroll down – more
detailed info follows ...
1. “Look Both Ways” – before you cross the (rail)road (see the sign at the start of the
film?); look forward (ahead), and back (in time); look forward to (anticipate) good times,
and reflect on what you have done & achieved; or look at it from the point of view of
more than one person; up and down …
2. “Subjective” = one person’s view – we’re seeing it from the point of view of that person.
Their opinions, feelings, knowledge, experience colours what we see, feel and (most
importantly, sometimes) understand. The “opposite” is objective – a view used in
literature where we “see” the events from an omniscient, detached perspective. Often
in LBW we’re watching what happens to the characters – eavesdropping, almost. This
allows us (when combined with the intense, personal moments) to make judgments
about the characters, as well as comparisons between their experiences and ours. What
about “peripheral vision” – out of the corner of our eyes?
How are we shown things? – Live action; Collage/montage; (pictorial – Meryl’s)
imagination – and Nick’s (cancer cells, butcher’s shop window ... Flashbacks – Nick’s
father. What about the group at Anna’s house, looking at the front page of the paper
with Julia’s picture on it … different ways of seeing the same thing …
3. A very good image to understand the film’s structure might be to envisage a rock,
thrown into a pond … the ripples spread outward, rocking those closest the most, those
furthest away in less violent (but sometimes no less significant) ways. Other rocks also
land in the pond at the same time, or shortly after the first … The death of the man
under the train, and Nick’s diagnosis, Anna’s pregnancy … all these things occur at
removes from each other, but in close enough proximity that many lives are affected.
It’s worth considering that the biggest event of the film (the train crash at Arnow Hill)
happens at a far enough remove that it doesn’t directly affect anyone in the film’s core
… but we know that what happens in LBW is just a microcosm …
a. Death – fear of dying (and of living?); the nature of death – cancer, AIDS, sudden
accident, shark attack …
b. Caution/control – how careful do we need to be to avoid the traps and
catastrophic pitfalls of life? Can we be in control? You can’t go through life
waiting – or fearing – disaster at every turn. Julia’s family protect her – hiding
the newspaper; same with the train driver’s son and Cathy, who stops Maddy
from watching the news on TV.
c. Ways of seeing – your view, my view, overview; mosaic, collage, imagination,
d. Luck/Chance – lives brought into collision by chance events – a death, a lost
picture, mutual friend … “Maybe it was meant to be …” (irony!)
5. Characters: the number shows us how many lives our own intersect with (knowingly or
unknowingly); also aims to stop us from fixing on one character (or two …)
a. Meryl – artist; father’s funeral at the start of the film; fearful; uncertain of
herself, of her value … She likes to “swim”, but is fearful in/of the “water”. She
spends her time trying to avoid social embarrassment, and apologizing for slips
and fumbles … Has to move past that, and just accept that it was “meant to be”
… or not.
b. Nick – photojournalist; at a loose end … cancer; father died of it; is this a full-
stop = no relationship w/ Meryl? Nick’s fragmented past – travelling the world
over as a journo has been halted by his father’s death. He has been “looking out
for his Mum … But it’s his life that’s stagnated. His flat is empty and sterile. His
own cancer – and meeting Meryl confronts him with his situation.
c. Julia – widow of the man hit by the train; unable to deal with grief & loss. Those
around her hide from her the “reality” – the newspaper with her pic on the front
page. She is pulled back to the scene of the accident. The train-driver’s card
releases her” It wasn’t your fault,” she tells him.
d. Andy – bad-tempered journalist; colleague of Nick; one failed
marriage/relationship already. Andy believes that everyone else “has an
agenda” … He doesn’t want to go where reflection will take him – he certainly
does: “Get my slant?” he asks Nick. “What have you got cancer for?” He also
disguises his own doubts by asking others, “What’s wrong with you?” How is his
character resolved? (Look at the final montage – what is shown, in relation to
e. Anna – Andy’s girlfriend – accidentally pregnant; smoker, not sure whether to
have the baby; feels like a failure at work – surrounded by babies/families …
Plans to work overseas – has “booked tickets to London”, with “Emily” … She
suggests Andy take responsibility for the baby, and work from home – which,
she says, he has talked about. Cut to the end montage: what does this suggest?
f. Phil – Nick’s and Andy’s editor; friend of both; estranged from his wife &
daughter (how old? What day’s her birthday?)At Nick’s news, bins his ciggies.
Initially confused about how to react: “Which hospital – we’ll get some
donations, hide some whisky in some flowers …” He becomes supportive, both
of Nick and of his wife and daughter …
g. Joan – Nick’s mother – his father, Jim, too – their relationship through Jim’s
illness. She’s there as a support – but insists that he (both of them) face it: “Have
you told him?”; forces Nick to acknowledge the truth of facing death: it’s not
about a “brave face”. You face it when you must, and live, the rest of the time;
tells Nick his father’s life isn’t about his death ….
h. Train driver & son – driver suffers crippling guilt and a sense of responsibility.
Note here that he is NOT responsible: the film deals with where our
responsibilities STOP, as well as where we need to accept the outcomes of OUR
actions & decisions. They are remote from each other; starkly different – what
do they find in common? Son reaches out (beer, sit … accompanies his Dad to
Julia’s house …
6. Ideas – discussion topics –
i. Responsibility: acceptance of responsibility for the decisions we take/make –
Andy has already avoided the (primary) responsibility of fatherhood once, and it
appears initially as if he will do the same with Anna. Nick‟s cancer diagnosis
confronts him with decisions he‟s made over a lifetime (and Phil, too) everything
from mobile phones to smoking and burnt toast ... See xviii
Similar ... yet contrasted. If grief is the reaction to a specific event, despair is a more
ii. Despair pervasive attitude to life that prevents someone from seeing hope or even a future.
Meryl at the bottom of the hole ... why does Andy stand in front of the train?
iv. Survival: mainly surviving the trauma associated with loss – of “self”, or a
partner or love either through desertion or through death.
v. Compassion: feeling for someone else – having the empathy to understand
someone else‟s feelings, and the selflessness to act on that knowledge and act to
help. Phil learns this ... other characters (Andy, for example) are slow to pick it
vi. Love: It‟s a film that looks at different loves, and different ways of expressing it.
Julia‟s love for Rob chains her to his death. Her parents‟ feelings for her make
them try to shield her from the news; Nick and Meryl are drawn together ... but
almost part because Nick tells himself (and Meryl) that he “can‟t start anything”
because of his cancer. Is there a sense in this that love doesn‟t wait for
convenience: it just is (was it “meant to be”?)
vii. Loss: death is the most obvious way this is developed, but there is plenty of
sense that losing love, or a sense of who you are, or just that feeling that your life
has left the tracks – is out of your control. Losing or gaining “love” is a constant
element in defining the characters‟ identities.
viii. Spirit: there are plenty of ghosts in this – the crossed graves, the roadside
tributes, Nick‟s father (and other photos of those who have died) ... Nick and
Andy discuss belief – the batsman before Andy offers a prayer before he goes in:
“fat lot o‟ good that did him,” Andy snarls, when he is dismissed.
ix. Self-knowledge: the passage to understanding. Is it the acceptance of death, or
of responsibility? Or both?
x. Desire: and its consequences. “You were there too,” Anna tells Andy. As Nick
and Meryl consummate their desire for each other, they dream of the
consequences: Nick feels the cancerous cells boiling inside him; Meryl sees the
act result in screaming, diseased triplets. Or AIDS.
xi. Hope: Is hope the antidote? As characters find they are able to look into the
future with optimism, fear ceases to shape their identities, relationships and
xii. Anxiety: This is the “other” shape of fear ... We all have anxieties ... When they
get out of control, they can paralyse us, preventing us from achieving emotional
or physical health ...
xiii. Redemption: is forgiveness. Who forgives? Who is forgiven?
xiv. Fear: Meryl‟s whole life is bounded by fear. She can‟t leave the house without
worrying about a train falling on her, or a car smashing into her, or a killer whale
gobbling her up at the seaside or sharks, as she swims in the ocean. In a way,
fear is the linkage to so many of the characters‟ relationships, and understanding
of self: as they overcome their fear, so are they able to reach out, and to resolve
Three attitudes to life: what happens was (Meryl)
xv. Fate “meant to be”; or it’s all a flip of the coin; or out fate is
determined by the choices we make – the horoscope
M’s friend reads out to her.
xviii. Commitment: You takes your chance, you makes your choice, and abide by the
consequences of the decisions you make ... Is this the “message”, together with
i? At the end of the film, Phil has reaffirmed his faith in his family, and committed
himself (giving up smoking) to a healthy life with them; Meryl and Nick are
committed, as are Andy and Anna; the train driver and his son have affirmed their
faith in each other ...
a. Water/ocean; In LBW, Meryl swims in a local pool – looking almost lyrical, as she
porpoises along. At the same time, the duality of the experience is emphasised by her
imagining being attacked by sharks, and by her fears that Maddy, floating nearby face-
down, has drowned while Cathy, her mother, reads the paper. Anna walks through the
park, spattered by the sprinklers, she then turns and walks back again – it is coolong and
refreshing. The ocean‟s dangerousness is reflected in it appearing in so many of Meryl‟s
paintings (and imaginings) ... she always pictures herself floating, arm waving for help,
surrounded by sharks. Ironically, when she and Nick make love, she is pictured floating
amidst Nick‟s cancerous cells, almost serenely ...
Note the doctor‟s screensaver is a shark/ocean; Meryl‟s flat is first seen through her fish
tank (+ shark)
Andy and his kids stand by a fountain, Phil‟s kids squirt each other with water-pistols ...
b. Rain; At the start of the film, the TV announcer tells us that the weekend will be hot. It is
only after Nick has raced the train, “saved”(?) Andy – and revealed to Andy “what‟s wrong”
that the weather finally breaks. Nick walks away from a bemused Andy, and bursts into
tears, as the clouds burst, soaking him. Andy too is soaked, as he sits in his car, trying to
release the seatbelt to drive away. And Meryl, knees bloodied, is caught in the deluge, as
she tries to return to where she and Nick fought, so that she can apologise. The rain might
be a release. It might demonstrate the value of tears. Or it might embody the idea that rain
falls in every life, sometimes.
c. Train; Trains are used many times through the film. They carry other lives past us; they
crash, bringing other lives to an abrupt halt; they roar overhead or nearby, frightening us
with their speed and force. Perhaps they are a metaphor for “life” ... impervious (there are
some conundrums if you unravel this too far!) to our hopes, dreams and desires, life rattles
on, sometimes (seemingly) at breakneck speed, sometimes agonisingly slowly ...
sometimes, it seems as if it‟s not moving at all. The films uses this idea of the intersection
of travellers‟ lives – as if, for a moment in time (or sometimes for a longer “journey”) – we
inhabit the same place.
d. Signs & portents – not just the warning and advisory signs we‟re shown, but the cars, the
weddings; pusher that Andy trips on ...
e. Birds: seen many times – in wheeling clouds which stay as a group, or divide (going both
ways?) ; as single birds (as Meryl makes a shrine for Rob); coming home to roost (as Nick
Googles “testicular cancer”); . They serve as “time markers” from one event/moment to
another, but as something more, too. AND their sounds – the crows‟ cawing as the police
tape off the area where Rob was killed; the early morning twittering ... and calls at other
f. Running; Nick runs – for health? Fitness – to reassure that the C hasn‟t got him? He runs
against the train – as a race against death? (if it had hit Andy ...) Against fate – impervious
to our actions, fate is a freight train loaded with other people‟s priorities? Trains are also
used independently of this – in a “Sliding Doors” way: Meryl is drawn into Rob & Julia‟s
lives tangentially when she observes them from her train window; Meryl & Nick miss a
stop, coming home from lunch at his mother‟s; lives fleetingly intersect – by chance –
simply depending on what train you catch ... Arnow Hill shows ho catastrophic this can be..
Cricket – being “bowled”, “run out” – a moment of misery or celebration – or both,
depending on your perspective ...
8. Time frame: it’s only a little over a weekend …
What does this mean? A lot can happen in a very little time? Your life can run off the
rails so very quickly? You can go from happiness to abject misery to joy (or a sense of
completion, or understanding or feeling at peace …)
Another element here is the impact that (seemingly) unrelated events in the “big” world
can have on us …
7 Stages of Grief...
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the
reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional
protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although
excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and
not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one.
Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the
death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your
relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with
the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him
4. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad
reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of
it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this
stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you.
You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus
on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more
organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself
seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to
work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without
him or her.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with
the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given
the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled
YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
Characters & themes
1. It is the characters like Julia and the train driver, who say the least, but who express
the most, in Look Both Ways. Discuss.
2. How does Look Both Ways represent the fears and anxieties of its central characters,
Meryl and Nick?
3. Look Both Ways shows us that facing up to responsibilities is a fundamental aspect
of human experience. Do you agree?
4. Look Both Ways reveals how fear and anxiety are characteristic of contemporary
society, but must be controlled for a healthy life. Discuss.
Values and cultural influences
1. Look Both Ways is essentially a film that examines the impact of living in a suburban
environment. Do you agree?
2. The strength and appeal of Look Both Ways is that it presents a portrait of ordinary people in
ordinary circumstances. Discuss.
3. The role that art plays in Look Both Ways shows how important to our emotional health is
creative expression. Discuss.
1. Look Both Ways illustrates most clearly the problems men face in relationships. Discuss.
2. There are so many stories in Look Both Ways that in the end, we are not sure what the film
was about. Do you agree?
3. Understanding Look Both Ways involves much more than just following a storyline. Discuss.
4. This is a film for older viewers, rather than for young people.
1. The stories of all the characters carry equal weight. Do you agree?
2. The presence of parallel narratives is an effective strategy that compliments the
stories of Meryl and Nick. Do you agree?
3. In its use of imagery, Look Both Ways generates an impact that goes far beyond the
stories of the characters. Discuss.
4. How does Watt demonstrate the inadequacy and irrelevance that words often have