Battle Dress

In my experience, it’s quite hard to watch Nic Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW *without* spotting some new and fascinating detail. Certainly I had noticed that in the openings sequence the little girl is playing with a military doll — it looks like an Action Man but it has one of those drawstrings used for talking dolls, which I’m not sure the Action Man ever had, and bizarrely the male doll has a posh female voice. I’d also noticed that, in a bit of grotesque black humour, the doll says “Fall in” shortly before little Christine fatally does just that, in the pond.

What I’d missed is that Christine has dressed the male figure in an ankle-length dress, made I think of shiny textured plastic. With a sort of brick pattern on it. Maybe because her dad’s an architect. So we can extrapolate a whole backstory — Christine has latched onto her big brother’s toy, and made it her own. For some reason the doll spoke to her, as it were, but needed to be rendered feminine. But it’s not likely that she was able to operate on it and alter its voice-box, replacing it with a female robo-larynx — after all, her approximation of a dress is pretty crude. But maybe the voice is heard by us as female because that’s how she imagines it?

There is odd, undeclared subjective stuff going on in this sequence — Christine’s father, John (Donald Sutherland) gets a paranormal vision of Christine drowning before he can rationally be aware of it, a point most viewers (well, me, anyway) miss on first viewing. It also just occurred to me that it’s rather cruel that his second sight doesn’t give him the tip-off in time for him to do anything about it.

But no — I’m wrong again. The first reaction shot from Sutherland, indicating that something — we know not what, asides from his hair, but it’s a presentiment — is going on in his long, permed head, occurs well ahead of the accident. If Baxter had been able to act upon his impulse, to acknowledge the possibility of his psychic foresight, the tragedy might have been averted, just as it might have been at the end of the film.

Incidentally, Julie Christie is smiling at the movie’s conclusion. She asked Roeg, sensibly enough, why Laura Baxter would be smiling at her husband’s funeral. “Because it’ll be too sad, otherwise,” Roeg told her. Which is a silly version of the real answer, which is that Laura has faith, and so neither Christine nor John is really dead.

(It’s a very good film about the painful gulf existing between those who have faith and those who don’t, and it ultimately seems to take the side of the former group — well, maybe not “take the side” — but the movie seems to think they’re correct — and I wouldn’t agree with that, myself — but the movie has compassion for both types of person, which is nice.)

7 Responses to “Battle Dress”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    What everyone remembers most about the film is the Julie and Donald love scene. It’s shown chronologically backwards and executed in a spirit of mournful longing that’s quite unique.

  2. maybe the action man is Chas, post-Performance

  3. Ha!

    The film’s first image is the pond, on a rainy day, a symbol of death that hasn’t acquired its meaning for us yet. And the second image is the hotel blinds, the shots linked by glinting light. The blinds are intended, Roeg said, to bring to mind the love scene and to suggest that a new child might be conceived. I remember reading that and thinking “But nobody will ever make those connections!” which I now think is why the film is so rich. There’s more there than you can ever absorb.

  4. Judy Dean Says:

    Some Action Man toys did have a voice mechanism and also the ability to record your own message, so it’s quite possible for Christine to have recorded her own voice. Look on Ebay if you’d like to own one – there are lots for sale!

  5. Amazing! Well, it seems like an adult voice so it would make sense if she got her mum to record it… but it doesn’t sound like Julie Christie. And the man humming under the shot of the bedroom blinds doesn’t sound like Donald Sutherland, come to that. Ghosts are invading this movie…

  6. John Seal Says:

    I could be wrong, but I think the dress is actually bubble wrap.

  7. It has the right plastic sheen, but if you can enlarge the image, there’s a strange brick pattern to it. Is that what bubble wrap was like in the seventies? I don’t think I ever saw it until later, though it certainly existed.

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