Blind [subtitled]

Blind

This is an intriguing little movie.

All else being equal, when a film has surreal elements, or forces you into a guessing game trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, that lessens my enjoyment of it. There are types of complexity I like in movies, for instance that which comes from a story with psychological or moral depth, but I’ve never been fond of the “What the heck’s going on?” brand of confusion.

But for some reason, I sort of got into Blind’s ambiguous storyline.

This Norwegian film’s protagonist is Ingrid, a young-to-middle-aged married woman who suddenly went blind as an adult. (As she explains it, she was out dancing and noticed that she had an annoying spot on her contact lens. By the time she had a chance to remove the lens, she saw that the spot in her vision remained. Soon she had similar issues with her other eye, and her vision quickly degenerated until she was completely blind.) Now she is gradually trying to learn how to function without vision. For the time being that mostly means finding her way around their apartment and doing the most basic things. She is hesitant about pushing herself to leave her apartment and try to function away from home, though her husband is urging her to take that next step.

The husband (Morten) is supportive in general, but isn’t around all that much. That struck me as a little odd, that he wouldn’t be there to go through this with her on a more full time basis, rather than going off to work all day. (He’s an architect or some kind of designer. All the folks in the movie seem to be middle class or above urban professionals.) Perhaps they had already gone through that stage and now we’re picking up the story right after they decided it was time for him to return to work and for her to try being on her own during the days.

In order to cope with her situation—which is pretty damn nightmarish when you think about it; I mean, imagine how drastically your life would change if you entirely lost your vision—Ingrid escapes more and more into the world of her imagination. At times she writes her ideas on her laptop (you’d think she would use some kind of voice-to-text technology and speak them, but I think it’s set up to repeat back to her through headphones what she types or something), like as drafts of a potential novel or series of stories. Other times she’s just kind of daydreaming or brainstorming possible ways to develop her stories, or I think at least once is dreaming.

We see her coming up with this stuff, but then we also see her creative product acted out. It is not always entirely clear when we’re seeing real life and when we are in her novel or whatever her fictional world is.

I don’t think there are any definite answers as to what is real and what is not. The scenes exist more on a continuum where some seem clearly her imagination, some seem very likely real, and the rest are in between. Some, toward the end of the film especially, seem pretty close to 50-50.

I guess it’s partly just your choice as a viewer. It depends on how much you want to allow to be up for grabs. Like, I assume that most of her interaction with her husband is real, but there is some interaction with him that she’s clearly imagining, and you could plausibly interpret more into that category. Or for that matter, there’s the possibility that she’s not even married and the husband is an entirely fictional character she has come up with.

I suppose there’s nothing to prevent you from going on from there to eliminate her as well. Maybe this is a fictional world of some author imagining what her (it doesn’t even have to be a “her”) life would be like if she were blind and fell back on her art to deal with it.

It sounds crazy to take it that far, but then you step back and realize that this is itself a movie, a fictional story, so of course at a certain level that’s exactly what’s going on: some writer or writers came up with a tale about a fictional person going blind and that blind person then concocting fictional stories related to her life.

Anyway, in the very beginning, Ingrid, in voiceover, talks about how hard she works on visualizing things now that she’s blind, trying to remember what everything, every environment, looked like. You know, the color of this, the size of that, where this was positioned in relation to that, etc.

Then she realizes that only some of that information has pragmatic value. You’d want to know where a certain thing is located so you don’t bump into it, for instance. But does it really matter if the visualization in your mind based on memory is accurate that the highest branches of a certain tree are 20 feet from the ground or 50 feet, or your friend so-and-so’s car is silver or green? She continues to habitually picture everything to herself, but stops getting hung up on the accuracy of most of it.

I think this is a metaphor for how she then starts thinking more like a novelist or a creator of fiction. Just as she allows herself to picture things other than how they really look, she now allows herself to create a whole world in her mind of events that may never have really happened and characters that may not be real people.

When we’re experiencing her fictional world (not that there’s always a clear dividing line between when we are and when we aren’t, as mentioned), it doesn’t all hang together perfectly. In effect this is the draft of a novel, not a completed, meticulously edited and proofread novel.

Some of that is depicted in interesting, even humorous, ways. Like in voiceover Ingrid will be describing a mother and her young son, and you’ll see them walking along together, and a moment later she’ll refer to the son as “she,” and it’ll be a girl walking with the mother, as you realize Ingrid is playing with different possibilities for these characters, trying to decide if it fits better with her intentions for the novel if this woman has a son or a daughter.

Or in one scene the characters interact with each other in a very hesitant, awkward way, with long pauses where they’re not quite sure what to say to each other, and then we see Ingrid at her laptop, struggling to figure out how she wants to write this part of the story. Her uncertainty leaves them kind of flailing.

The main characters in her fictional world include her husband Morten, a kind of schlubby guy with a ponytail (Einar), and a divorced Swedish gal (Elin). (It’s worth noting, by the way, that Ingrid is a reasonably hot Norwegian chick, and Elin is a really hot Swedish chick.)

Morten and Einar know each other, having gone to school together. (Is Einar a real person from Morten’s life or at least based on one, or has Ingrid totally invented him?) He’s a lonely, goodhearted guy with anxiety issues who realizes that the one time he was truly happy in life was in the aftermath of the 2011 terror attacks when that nut job killed dozens of people at a Labor Party summer camp, when Norwegians all kind of came together and responded by caring about each other more. After that faded, though, and he felt people were, if anything, looking at him with suspicion due to their now being uncomfortable with troubled loner type males, his emotional issues only got worse. He got into porn more and more, and soon became obsessed with his beautiful neighbor Elin, trying to figure out some way he could get her to notice him.

Meanwhile, Morten (in Ingrid’s fiction), frustrated with having a now-blind wife who won’t leave the house, starts flirting and sexting online with Elin, which eventually leads to a meeting in person, which in turn leads to sex.

As Ingrid continues to try to figure out how she wants her story to develop, at times she and the character of Elin start to merge. Like she has Elin, for no apparent reason, suddenly go blind. Or when in real life (probably) she backs out of going to a big deal work-related party with Morten that he really wanted her to come with him to, in her story she has Elin show up there uninvited instead. Or when she’s wondering how Morten might react if she got pregnant now that she’s blind, in her story she has his mistress Elin get pregnant with his child and confront him about it.

She certainly gets into the stories, especially the sexual parts, but what are we to make of this coping strategy, if that’s what it is? Are we seeing a person gradually breaking down mentally, going insane, losing her ability to distinguish reality from imagination? Or is this creative outlet of fiction writing preventing her from falling into depression and keeping her sane? Is it enabling her to cope too well, making her too content to remain in their apartment and indeed in her head, and keeping her from the short term discomfort but long term improvement of challenging herself to get out and interact with real people again?

Like I say, as a viewer there are multiple scenes that really are in a gray area, where I’m not at all sure if we’re supposed to understand them as really happening or as still part of her draft novel or whatever it is. Has she gotten to the point where she doesn’t know either?

By the way, Blind is, if not the only, then certainly one of very few non-porno films I’ve ever seen that has sex. Not simulated sex, not suggested sex, not the kind of “sex” that all the bluenoses rant about supposedly being far too prevalent in modern movies, but actual sex, where you can see full insertions and such. Admittedly it’s with an asterisk and it’s brief, but it’s still there. It occurs not in the (probably) real life scenes, but when the (presumably fictional) Einar is consuming porn and we get to watch a few seconds of various porn scenes with him.

Also, it’s kind of cool all the devices that exist for blind people now. For instance, Ingrid is shown with some handheld gizmo that announces the color of anything she points it at, which is good for sorting laundry, deciding what to wear, etc. (I wrote that, and then it occurred to me that it’s possible there’s no such thing and it exists only in Ingrid’s fictional world. I mean, that’s how this movie keeps you off balance, where you don’t know what to trust, if anything. So I actually Googled it to be sure, and discovered that there are indeed such devices.)

There’s just a lot interesting stuff going on in this movie. Even aside from the fiction writing, there are issues of how a cataclysmic disability like this can affect a marriage emotionally, and how it can affect it sexually.

Things can change that you wouldn’t even think about. Like Ingrid notes in voiceover that Morten used to be more relaxed in general and specifically pretty loose about politically incorrect humor and such. For instance, he once noted—and drew laughs from the circle of people present—that you never see a black person on a bicycle, or if you do, like in a movie, it must be special effects. (I got a kick out of the fact that later in the movie, we do indeed see a black man on a bike in Oslo. Or maybe it’s not a bit of humor. Maybe his presence is an indication that the scene isn’t real, that this is something Ingrid is imagining for her novel.) Now, she observes, he doesn’t give himself permission to make remarks like that, perhaps because he instinctively walks on eggshells with a wife who has become a member of a “minority” of sorts herself.

Blind gives you plenty to think about, starting with that most basic issue of how enormously your life would change if you no longer had your vision, and then building on that to explore other related issues. This is a winner.

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