What happens when complete darkness surrounds you? All you can do is visualize. You can use your memory of a place, perhaps grope in the dark based on your best judgment of it. In a way, when you cannot see, your mind becomes your eyes. And when one is visually impaired, the darkness is permanent; an infinite blank space beyond comprehension. The only way to give something any kind of tangible shape is to imagine. The mind becomes the ultimate gateway to reach and feel a world that cannot be seen. Only where there is imagination, there is also the limitlessness.
Norwegian writer-director Eskil Vogt demonstrates this through the mind of Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a woman recently gone blind due a hereditary condition. Despite her husband Morten's (Henrik Rafaelsen) adequate support and insistence that she must step out and try to resume normal life, Ingrid chooses to stay indoors. Whilst being confined to her apartment, mostly sitting by the window and writing away on her laptop, she resorts to endless musings in a thought process voice-over.
We are introduced to two other primary characters, who are presumably Ingrid's neighbours. Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) is a single loner and avid porn addict, and Elin (Vera Vitali) is a lonesome single mother with a child who comes to spend the weekends with her. Ingrid's narration gives us backgrounds of these characters, seemingly from her memory, and then the story arc gradually begins to develop as the lives of these characters intertwine. However, after an instance or two of wild imagination concerning her husband, a big question mark is put on the credibility of Ingrid, exposing her as an unreliable narrator, especially when the events unfolding on the screen begin to border on the absurd.
"Blind" works impressively as a rich, layered film that serves as both a character sketch of Ingrid, and also as a fascinating psychological drama that focuses on her repressed fantasies that take shape in the darkness. While most other films portray the blind as being victims in a predicament, with excessive dependence on others, Vogt chooses to show his blind protagonist using the handicap to her advantage. It is Ingrid who is in control here, because she is confined to her home. At home, she feels safe, more confident than anywhere else, and with confidence, comes power. Vogt eschews most of the usual tropes associated with such films and far from making his Ingrid a pitiable character, he makes us marvel at the extent of her imagination, and the ability to take her limitation in her stride.
Ingrid is a deeply lonely person, much like Einar and Elin, but her loneliness becomes an outlet for her desires. Sexual repression and total darkness combine forces to fructify into a new world, not strictly of an otherworldly kind, but rather, very human, very grounded in reality. And therefore while she doesn't wander off to a fantastical world with odd beings and surroundings, she still manages to make something unreal out of her real world with somewhat of a Bunuelesque touch. She somehow finds release via these fantasies, which are mostly to do with loneliness and sex.
The characters and the events surrounding them are shown from her perspective, and when eventually fantasies start permeating the facts, revealing Ingrid's mischievous side, the viewer can't help but cheer. It eventually becomes all too clear, with the director leaving little to the viewer's interpretation, the moment Ingrid more or less begins to play God when it comes to the fates of these characters.
Vogt infuses a fair bit of comedy in the mix, especially when Ingrid gets into a more playful mood. Some bravura editing is used to shift scenarios in a manner that you might find yourself rubbing your eyes about what exactly it was that you saw. Elin is shown to have a son, and in the next scene, the son turns into a daughter! Is this the product of Ingrid's memory failing her, or is it a product of her fickle imagination? It is all very subtly done until it comes out in the open.
Vogt's attention to detail about a blind person's thought process is commendable. This is a woman, deprived of romance following her blindness. She can only imagine the changes in her physical appearance thereafter. Following an evening of fine wine, when she gets in a rather romantic mood, and her husband doesn't make an advance, she peeps rather casually "Has my hair turned greyer lately?"
As a blind person, Ingrid is somewhat insecure, as her fears of being left alone manifest in the form of her husband Morten's attempts at infidelity. But imagining this infidelity in the form of an elaborate sex chat full of lurid details hints at the possibility that she is somehow even deriving excitement from this imagination which is not really in her favour. And therefore, after a fleeting moment of self-pity upon being rejected a sexual advance, Ingrid drifts off into a detailed date fantasy about her husband and his imagined mistress, that ends badly albeit in a humourous fashion!
This is a woman craving attention from her husband, but also appreciates that he is still there by her side, despite almost cutting down on the romance. And in, perhaps, the quest for that attention, and in sick desperation, Ingrid sheds all her clothes and presses herself seductively against her glass window for the whole world to see, fully aware of the fact that she can neither see any reaction from anyone, nor can she see for herself what they can.
It is in scenes like these that one can admire the talent involved here. Petersen dishes out a bold and applause-worthy performance as Ingrid, and seems to do it quite effortlessly, considering the film's effectiveness and appeal mostly comes from watching her. Ably supporting her are Kolbenstvedt and Vitali, in acts that almost rival hers in creating characters that one can easily connect with.
With some fine talent on board, a strong script and expert handling, Eskil Vogt has created a masterpiece. This is one director whose work will be looked forward to.