Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Blind": A Character Study in Metaphor

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Released in Norway in 2014 and only recently finding its way to home video release in the States, Blind is one of the most intriguing character studies I’ve seen all year.  I went into this film with a fear that ableism and exploitation of disability would be the driving force of the narrative, but thankfully, I was surprised by how thoughtful and empathetic the film was toward its newly-disabled protagonist.  Any negativity about disability is integral to the blind protagonist’s character arc, which is fantastically realized in a high-concept framing device.

Ingrid woke up one day to find a blind spot in the middle of her vision, which quickly progressed into full-on blindness.  In the aftermath of this transition, she sits alone at home all day by the window, imagining the exploits of an imaginary cast of neighbors and her husband, whom she suspects is staying with her out of pity and is hiding an adulterous double life from her.  These thoughts are visualized on-screen as what could deceptively be called the film’s A-story, as Ingrid’s imaginings take up the majority of the runtime, and cuts back to Ingrid mainly serve to remind us that what we are seeing is just what she is internally visualizing.

What’s truly interesting about these scenes are that the characters aren’t so much fully realized people as they are reflections of Ingrid’s insecurities.  No one character is meant to represent a complete feeling or concept, but their interplay functions as an insightful look into the self-pitying rut that Ingrid has run herself into.  At times the characters are shy and withdrawn, at others they let their exteriors crack to reveal something weird or different.  Her dream-husband functions as an awfulization of what she thinks her real husband is doing behind her back, visiting dating websites while in bed with her and seeing other women whom he now finds more interesting.  This all starts to come to a head with the inclusion of an imaginary blind character whom the husband starts dating, and the metaphor begins to bleed into reality.

The dreams themselves are playfully realized as well so that we aren’t simply left with a cast talking in perpetual metaphors.  As Ingrid rearranges details in her mind, details of the setting will also morph, such as one character starting out with a son and suddenly having a daughter, or a coffee shop meeting somehow ending on a bus that had been passing by the window every five seconds prior.  The dream logic is only ever intrusive in moments of comic relief, with characters stopping to figure out what has changed and nonchalantly moving on with their day.  It’s fun to play a waiting game to see what will change next and adds levity to what would otherwise be a pretty dark tale.

Blind is one of those films that most Americans will never even hear of, much less see for themselves, but the experience is well worth the time and the subtitles.  It isn’t in any way an overt commentary on disability, other than that it is possible to live a fulfilling life as a disabled person, but the casual nature by which the film treats its protagonist’s self-pity as the crux of her character arc makes this one of the best examples of disability in film I have seen.  Combine that with a really neat hook and some playful direction, and you have a film that should get more recognition than it will inevitably not receive.

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