Norwegian scriptwriter Eskil Vogt’s directorial debut “Blind” (2014) explores the tragedy and panic induced by sudden blindness. Yeah, the description might make you evaluate this film as a melodramatic tale of affliction. No, it’s not that kind of movie. Of course, the characters within the movie's frames are afflicted, but the mechanics of storytelling and aesthetic sense are constructed in a way that never gives us a feeling of watching a melodrama. How do you represent blindness through cinematic means? How can one ever learn about inner lives and imaginations of a person who had lost their vision? The film-makers could obviously open or cut with black screen to indicate the character’s blindness and then fill the black frames with sounds & voices, which is how the common cinematic language to exhibit loss of vision works. But, why should a film-maker, while taking up a subjective approach to portray visual impairment on screen, takes away that particular person’s visual imaginations and fantasy? “Blind” is all about feeling & witnessing the mental image of a woman who had recently lost her eyesight.
On one hand, it respectfully deals with the subject of blindness, while on the other hand, it works as an exploration of our loneliness and inner fantasies (which could be cruel and dirty as well). The movie opens with Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a woman in her thirties, narrating to us the daily challenges and fears she faces due to her affliction. When Ingrid’s husband Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen) leaves to work, she retreats to a window in her nondescript, sparsely furnished Oslo apartment. She listens to music, sips tea and waits till her husband arrives back from work. During those long periods, Ingrid only has her thoughts to entertain. In the opening frames, Ingrid tells us that she has to keep her imagination and memory fresh by visualizing peoples, places and little details (“It’s not important what’s real if I can visualize it clearly” says Ingrid). It is a harmless exercise to keep away the boredom, since Ingrid doesn’t seem to have no intention to go out. She keeps on thinking that her husband often sneaks inside from work to watch her sitting near the window. And, just like that her imaginations run wild.
The story cuts to life of Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), narrated by Ingrid, a lonely porn-obsessed guy. He follows beautiful woman with long hairs. There is a sense of empathy in the way Einar’s life is narrated so that he can’t be labeled as ‘creep’. Einar is fascinated by his neighbor Elin (Vera Vitali), a pretty single mother. Elin’s plight is also explained by the narrator, who seem to be as lonely and frustrated as Einar and Ingrid. Soon, Ingrid’s mounting anxiety about depending on her husband reaches a threshold point, which appears to reshape the autonomous lives of Einar and Elin. The premise at first might look like a typical non-linear story, although “Blind” more or less goes through Charlie Kaufman or Michael Gondry territory.
Director Eskil Vogt had previously dealt with the subject of urban loneliness in his script for Joachim Trier’s excellent drug-addiction drama “Oslo, August 31”. With “Blind” he takes on theme of solitude further by accommodating an irrepressible condition like blindness. But, unlike ‘Oslo’, the characters and their actions in ‘Blind’ don’t move in a strictly scripted environment. Director/writer Vogt relies more on fantasies and wild imaginations in this film to explore the subconscious of his central subject. On the outset, this is a simple tale of a woman’s personal journey, facing the inner demons and accepting the disability. But, the way Vogt delves into deepest desires & pains of Ingrid with mischievous manipulation and meta-approach keeps us captivating till the end. Vogt brings out a marvelous tone of claustrophobia, which is bit hard to shake off. The director employs beautiful close-ups to capture Ingrid’s reaction and to create a unique subjectivity. Instead of making the woman living in darkness, Vogt constantly shows us her mental image and how she is constantly imagining her surroundings. The intricacy the film-maker brings with his visuals and characterization could better be explained with few spoilers.
Two contradictory fears afflict Ingrid’s persona: the fear of being alone without a husband or a family; and the fear of bearing responsibility for a child. And, as she forms the fictional spirit of Elin, she sends both these fears into the character in equal measures. Elin is socially awkward (uses bad combinations of dress and make-ups), suffers humiliations by men and is left alone. The current childlessness factor makes Ingrid to oscillate between choosing a boy and a girl (Kim) for Elin. Ingrid also transforms Elin to be the woman who is secretly dating her husband Morten. And, at that point, she inflicts cruel things on Elin: making her blind; one-night stand turns into pregnancy; her privacy is compromised by a loud text-message reader. The same morbid thought of fumbling for connection is dealt with Ingrid’s imaginary Einar. ‘Will I ever be able to touch a person? Would the isolation bring my life to a halt?’ – These are the questions that haunt Ingrid in forming Einar, but the significant aspect of this character is infusing the sexual thoughts (including dirty fetishism). And, it is actually rare to see a woman on-screen, realizing her sexual thoughts.
Despite the thought that has gone into the characterization of these three central personalities, two aspects make it a perfectly realized movie: the robust emotional foundation; and the inventive visual cues that blur the line between reality and imagination (the film warrants a second time viewing just for these visuals). There’s humor in the way coffee shop mysteriously turns into a bus and vice-versa. However, these visual elements don’t become distracting and moreover provides some excellent tranquil & ponderous moments. In the scene, when Ingrid wants to arouse her husband in bed, she imagines him, eagerly waiting and smiling at her. But, in reality he is just checking his mails in the lap-top, ignorant of those smiles. It is one of the film’s heartbreaking scenes that show how Ingrid’s mental images often mis-matches with reality. Later, when she says in a pleading tone to her husband, “When I smile at you, I don’t know that you see it”, we can’t stop from thinking about how Mr. Vogt have intelligently brought us into the interior life of visually impaired woman.
Yet, “Blind” isn’t only about the state of blindness. It works as a scrutiny on human perceptions, on our loneliness, on how weird, dirty things boil inside us, on how our online culture diffuses lot of things to see, but only little to feel. It could also be about our relentless pursuit to search for some solace that isn’t really there. Within its nesting-doll narrative, the film reflects on how self-acceptance is more vital than self-pity. The situations exhibited here might be so unique, but some of the fears Ingrid faces are startlingly universal. All the performances don’t disappoint us even in the slightest moments. As Ingrid, Petersen flawlessly brings out wicked sense of humor and genuine anxiety.
“Blind” (95 minutes) offers an impactful and empathetic visual presentation to explore the inner world of a woman who can no longer see. The questions and the emotions the film lays out are absolutely universal.