Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a deeply unsettling supernatural thriller, and its confounding, hauntingly ambiguous ending is one of the reasons it’s so highly regarded in the history of horror cinema. Based on the short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as Laura and John Baxter and its plot explores the strain that losing a child can have on a relationship. After the drowning of their young daughter, Christine, the Baxters travel to Venice, where John has accepted a job restoring an old church, and they hope that getting away will help with the grieving process.
While it received mixed reviews upon its initial release, Don’t Look Now is considered an underrated masterpiece. In the movie, as John gets to work on the church restoration, Laura starts seeing an elderly psychic who claims she can “see” Christine. This psychic holds a séance to contact Christine from beyond the grave. Meanwhile, John is suffering from strange visions he can’t quite decipher. Don’t Look Now’s unsettling study of grief and clairvoyance culminates in one of the most disturbing and befuddling endings in horror movie history. But it also leaves a lot of questions to be answered and hidden meanings to be analyzed.
What Happens In Don’t Look Now’s Ending
After becoming paranoid that Laura is missing in Venice, John unwittingly drags Heather, the psychic his wife has been seeing, into the futile investigation. By way of an apology, John offers to walk Heather back to her hotel, where she reunites with her sister. Heather then falls into a creepy dream state, and John leaves to return to his own residence. When she awakens from the trance, Heather begs her sister to go after John because she senses that something awful is about to happen to him. Unfortunately, the sister is unable to reach him in time, and the horrible event that Heather foresees comes actually occurs.
After again seeing the figure in the red coat that reminds him of his late daughter, John follows her into an abandoned palazzo. When she turns to face him, he is horrified to learn that it isn’t Christine back from the dead; the figure is a killer dwarf, staring at him with a sinister smile. As John freezes in stunned silence, the dwarf pulls out a meat cleaver and slashes his throat, killing him. This is one of the most shocking endings in any horror movie. It’s a jaw-dropping surprise on the first viewing and a perfect payoff to all the hints and clues on subsequent viewings.
Who Killed John?
The dwarf who kills John at the end of Don’t Look Now was played by Adelina Poerio, but very little is revealed about the character besides her appearance and her murderous act. However, in the build-up to the blood-soaked final scene, the brilliant psychological horror movie drops a few hints about her identity. While John and Laura are staying in Venice, there’s news about a serial killer on the loose. One of the reasons John involves the police in the search for his wife – who is supposedly back in England but has been appearing to him in visions – is because of the killer.
After John’s death, the serial killer is said to still be at large, suggesting that the woman who murders him is the one who has been terrorizing the city. It’s possible the serial killer on the loose is unrelated to John’s murderer because reports about the killer say they’re specifically targeting young women and killing them by drowning. Since John’s killer in that perfect final scene is clearly targeting a middle-aged man and murders him with a cleaver, it’s unlikely they are the same one from the reports. The serial killer’s M.O. relates to the way Christine died, calling into question how real those reports were in the first place.
What Were John’s Visions?
When he arrives in Venice, John starts having unusual visions that he can’t explain. He keeps spotting a mysterious figure in a red coat similar to the one that Christine was wearing when she died. After Laura returns to England to deal with an incident involving their son, John spots her on a boat in a funeral procession. When he is slashed to death at the end of Don’t Look Now, John realizes his visions throughout the movie have been premonitions of his own murder by a dwarf in a red coat, and the ensuing funeral service is held in his honor.
What Is The Significance Of The Color Red?
Don’t Look Now is among the smartest horror movies, and its script contains two important symbols: water and the color red. Both are established in the harrowing opening scene in which Christine drowns in a pond while wearing a bright red raincoat. Water follows John and Laura after their daughter’s untimely death. There’s a dark irony in the fact that the Baxters go to Venice, a city immersed in water, to get away from it all, and John’s prophesied funeral procession takes place on the waters of a canal. As it often does, water represents the unmitigated chaos of the natural world.
The red coat worn by Christine is a recurring motif, symbolizing the Baxters’ grief in Don’t Look Now. The mysterious figure that John mistakes for a reincarnation of Christine – who ultimately kills him with a meat cleaver – is wearing the same red coat. This piece of clothing pops up whenever a character is about to die, or whenever John has a premonition of his own demise. Red is a color of extremes, and it’s often used to symbolize anger and violence. These are both prominent themes in Don’t Look Now, as anger is an important stage of grief, and scenes don’t get more violent than a meat-cleaver murder.
The Real Meaning Of Don’t Look Now’s Ending
Don’t Look Now uses the occult themes and gothic imagery of a classic ghost story to explore the psychology of grief. The fact that the final murder is committed by a killer in a red coat suggests Christine’s death might not have been simply a tragic accident; it might have been another cosmic warning sign sent to caution John about his own inescapable fate. Psychic visions and a killer in identifying attire are familiar tropes ripped straight from the horror playbook, but the anguish of losing a child so young is all too real.
The ultimate message of Don’t Look Now is that the emotion of grief is powerful enough to break apart even the strongest, healthiest relationship. The recurring imagery of Christine’s death – flashbacks of her playing in the fateful red coat, John’s sightings of a mysterious figure wearing the same coat, etc. – is a visual metaphor for the permeance and pervasiveness of grief. John and Laura go to Venice to get away from the unthinkable horror of outliving their own daughter, but their mourning follows them there, and the pain doesn’t go away.
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