Worth Seeing

The poster for Blind emphasizes ass. There's the starlet, long and nude, posed at a window in a room as pure-white lit as a gallery space. The title, in translucent black letters stacked atop one another, stretches from her feet to just over her head, the many straight lines striping her body the way they might be in a noir—blind or blinds? The come-on, promising arty Euro actress jollies, isn't entirely belied by the movie: That stripped starlet does lean into a window, breasts to glass, for reasons you may or may not make sense of.

But Blind's provocations are brainy, meta-minded and often resolutely unsexy. This is a haunting puzzle of a movie, one to pick at, to unpeel, to see a second time through eyes that have adjusted to it. It's also alive with tender, tremulous feeling—it's a tale told by a shut-in, memorializing a world she no longer feels a part of.

Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), an Oslo woman recently gone blind, attempts early on to seduce her husband. It's trickier to keep him turned on when he doesn't have to look into her eyes anymore—as she attempts to entice him, from some feet away, she hears him start to patter on his laptop. He says it's for work, but we see what she doesn't: He's exchanging torrid messages with someone describing the dedication with which he or she would squeeze his balls.

Or maybe the husband isn't doing that at all. Blind is not about us seeing what Ingrid can't—it's about her imagining the lives she can't see. “They say that my ability to visualize will fade away,” she announces in voice-over as the movie opens. “That the optic nerves wither without new impressions.” As she speaks, director Eskil Vogt, the screenwriter of Oslo, August 31st, shows us the kind of visions she will soon only carry as unreliable memories. There's gliding-camera still-lifes of rooms she won't see again. There are dogs, one breed after another strolling through a park, and then a German shepherd alone in a lab-like white room, with its fur and legs examined in closeups—this is what it's like to try to remember what something looked like, to shut out everything around it and isolate the telling details. She explains the movie to come with something like a thesis statement: “It's not important what's real, so long as I can visualize it clearly.”

So, her husband's e-cheating—maybe that's just what she visualizes? She spends much of the film narrating the lives of lonely men and women who live near her, who peep and sulk and keep their blinds up for cinematic convenience. The drama, at first, lies in whether Ingrid is making all of this up.

The film shows us a male neighbor (Marius Kolbenstvedt) touching the hair of a woman in front of him on an escalator. Then Ingrid narrates his history with porn, explaining how and why his interests have evolved, the speech set to uncensored images of real-world pornography.

This complicates the already-complicated idea that Ingrid is entirely visualizing many of the events of the movie: Would she have dreamed up the drab watermarks of porn sites? Most of the images are explicit, some are playful—boner hoop-toss!—and all are miserably lit, touched with porn's harsh artlessness. Compared to Blind's poster or the rigorously composed scene it depicts, this stuff all looks as if it were shot in the break room of a tire store. Ingrid tsks at her neighbor's life, pointing out that he can see these women, but he can't feel them. It's up to you whether this account of porn addiction is overwrought and a little shrill by accident or design. Are we watching a parody of Ingrid's assumptions? And, later, when the film makes her the nude object of beauty we can admire but cannot feel, are we seeing her idealization of what she thinks she looks like?

Ingrid's neighbor spies on another neighbor, a beautiful blond woman you might sometimes mistake for Ingrid. (That seems intentional.) A single mother, Elin (Vera Vitali) has found that she has slipped out of life, that she spends all her time with her son; when the kid spends a night with friends, Elin lies that she, too, has some people to see. (Also, because Ingrid can't help revising her story, the son becomes a daughter.) Eventually, Elin finds a date online, and her life begins to resemble Ingrid's in the worst possible ways. Vogt cuts from Elin's comically eager and spacey dinner chatter to Ingrid, in a foul mood, thinking up the scene that we've been watching—and barely bothering to put effort into the dialogue.

From there, Ingrid's visions collide and corrode with horrific urgency. The setting becomes fluid; characters appear and vanish and even tell Ingrid their criticisms about the way the story's heading. The final scenes take on the sweaty inconstancy of a dream. We've gone from seeing what Ingrid visualizes to seeing what visions dog her: A husband partying with hookers. A blind woman's phone speaking out loud embarrassingly personal text messages on a crowded bus. And more, stranger and sadder, that I won't spoil here, even though it's probably impossible actually to do so: Can the details of a nonsensical yet suggestive story imagined/improvised by a fictional character matter so much that they shouldn't be divulged? No, not really—but it's the details that are the point here, in memory and onscreen. These inventive, troubling, mysteriously resonant specifics will stick with you longer than the ass does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *