I’ve always been interested in the relative aspects of how we
travel through life. How we can whinge about a head cold to someone
who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (though hopefully only until
they inform us of that news). How we can want, reasonably and rationally,
a new washing machine that doesn’t have to be re-assembled after
each wash, when we are fully aware that there are villages in Africa
with no well, never mind running water, never mind laundries. Never
mind a washing machine. And I won’t even start on ironing.
I’ve also always been interested in whether we should live our
lives as if we had a definite 100 years up our sleeves (or perhaps 92
with faculties intact), or as if we may die tomorrow. And what would
you do if you knew you were going to die, either tomorrow or within
five years? I’m sure I’d curl up into the fetal position
and beg them to get it over with. Yet people who have been delivered
news that may or may not truncate their lives seem to bear it courageously.
Perhaps because they have no choice, they got a cramp in the fetal position
after six straight hours.
In most ‘first world’ countries, death isn’t often
around every corner for everyone, though we are often led to believe
it is (usually to sell us something). And yet the further we are removed
from death, the more precious life becomes, and seemingly, the more
precious life is, the more anxious we become. Combine this with my often
idle wondering about what people are going through and not telling you.
Who on the subway has just lost their mother? Who has just won the lottery?
If they knew could they help each other? And is the train going to crash?
And am I going to share my last moments with these strangers? And will
I embarrass myself in my terror while those around me are noble? These
ideas became the seed of Look Both Ways.
I hadn’t set out to make a film solely about ideas. I actually
set out to make a romantic comedy. But reality shoved its way in; the
ideas became the setting for the lead characters, Meryl and Nick, to
meet for a romantic comedy about fear and anxiety.
I read recently in a review of Look Both Ways in a psychology
magazine, that the character of Meryl in the film was entertaining but
psychologically implausible. Meryl sees disaster in most situations:
she’s on a train, she imagines it crashing–just for a moment.
She crosses the road, for a blur of a second she is aware she has taken
a risk with her life. Is that man just a man walking his dog or an axe-wielding-drug-crazed
rapist murderer? But I know she is not implausible. She is like me,
and like the thousand other people who’ve said to me after seeing
the film: “How did you get access to my brain? I’ve never
told anyone I think like that.”
And I am seriously normal. I’m so normal that I doubt I’ve
ever had an original thought. Or even if I have, 30,000 people around
the globe probably have that thought within moments. I used to want
a career as the person who chose the single on the album; if I liked
it–guaranteed pretty much everyone else would as well. Or an ice
cream designer, or the person who decided when the traffic lights change–but
that's another story.
And really–how many people don’t sometimes wonder whether
that lift cable is strong enough, or whether that lightning is going
to hit the plane, or whether there is a shark in the deep dark water,
or whether that truck swerves just a little when I’m on the outside
lane of the very high bridge….
Well, lots of people I suppose. The well-adjusted for starters. The
rational. The logical, the statistical, the people that actually make
lift cables or have swum with sharks rather than watched Jaws
too many times.
And also the odd person who has swung too far the other way. The person
who is so free of anxiety that they have disconnected from the world.
Like Nick, the other half of the romance.
In the film, Nick is a photojournalist who’s seen a lot of stuff.
From the local car crash beat and cute children at fêtes, to wars,
famines, natural disasters and to more mini-bars than he can raise enthusiasm
for. He’s seen so much that he should worry that he doesn’t
worry about anything much anymore. He’s disengaged.
He’s forgotten to have children, he can’t remember if he
remembered to break off his last relationship or whether he’s
been dumped, he never gets around to hanging pictures on the walls of
his apartment, even though he takes a lovely photo.
So what happens when you give someone like Nick a jolt, feed him some
fear? Not something that couldn’t be overcome, but something that
wouldn't necessarily be overcome. Would his new anxiety reconnect him
to the world? And if you give someone like Meryl another jolt, someone
is in a worse boat than her. Would she get a grip? Would her over-anxiety
and his under-anxiety neutralize each other and make them normal?
I can’t tell you. Most days I still think there are actually sharks
in the deep dark water, and I stick to the inside lane on the bridge.
Maybe I should pop in and see that psychologist.