Blind

Devi said: “Listen Deva, supremely blissful quintessence, the Lord of Kula,
to the very essence of knowledge … concealed by my Maya.”

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One of them is blind, the other prefers not to be seen.
It would appear to be a match made in heaven.

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But he – the blind one – is a tyrant, imprisoned in the desolate mansion he inhabits under his mother’s care, unable to tolerate those hired to tend to his needs. And she, the one who wishes to remain invisible, brought on to read for him, will shun the affection that grows between them.

The promotional images for Blind capture this emotional terrain in which she seems to hold the upper hand: on the one hand, the distance she maintains between the two of them, despite his nakedness and the intimacy they share; on the other, when she finds the courage to face him, the lingering fear of what it is he “sees” in her, an anxiety partly due to her own deceit, innocuous lies used to hide her anguish and shame.

Despite her apprehension, he finds himself pulled in the opposite direction. For while she struggles with a certain trepidation about being the object of another’s attention, he finds escape from the aggravation of being handled by others. Her willingness to let her guard down, even if briefly, permits him to explore – and delight in – the world of another on terms not dictated from without.

In the absence of (his) sight, both are given the opportunity to experience the other – and themselves – in a different light, the flow of sensations different than the strangled mass that has dominated their lives until now: for her, that which has left its ugly marks on her body; for him, a world enveloped in black, punctuated by incessant demands that come from without.

Out of darkness, comes light. And from that light emerges a radically new sense of possibility.

In My Mother’s House

But, as the film makes clear, this is not merely a love story.

Blind is more centrally concerned the young man and the world in which we find him. His name, quite appropriately, is Ruben – most commonly rendered as “Behold, a son” – but which, according to rabbinical sources, can also be taken to mean “he has seen my misery” and “he will love me.” And as we are provided with a panoramic introduction to his world, the camera lingers on a framed copy of the well-known painting “Whistler’s Mother,” originally titled Arrangement in Grey and Black, less an homage to motherhood than an exploration of light and shadow, and the contending lines of force, that surround – and frame – its central figure.

The film’s palette mirrors Whistler’s study in black and grey. The mansion itself sits fortified against a sea of muddied white, the silhouettes of naked trees wearily standing guard against a barren landscape. Inside, where darker shades predominate, heavy curtains fortify the musty retreat from the outside world. The main hallway lined with empty chairs that plaintively await the bereaved who never arrive.

It is this house, this mansion, that enshrouds both mother and son, and within which the battle to domesticate him – and his blindness – is fought. A shriek announces that the latest in a string of maidservants will march out of the premises, refusing to submit to the boy’s repeated abuse, quite literally victim to his gnashing teeth. This is the situation into which she, the “invisible” one, will join the story, oblivious to what is housed there.

Even the mother is at a loss about what to do with him, uncertain how best to face his anger. An early confrontation, also framed in black and grey, has her swallowed in darkness as he snarls from shadowed light. He does not want her comfort, particularly in the form of the faith she accords to the doctor to whom his well-being has been thrust. However, despite the obvious conditions of existence against which he rails, the root cause of his rebellion remains a mystery. Is it the “darkness” of his mother that is the object of his ire, flailing against that which threatens to swallow him too? Or is it the wintry haze that also suffuses his surroundings, less a source of consternation than one of stupendous confusion?

Just as Ruben does battle, we discover that she – the one who will become his reader and, later, his lover – is similarly mired in conflict, and possesses battle scars to prove it. At first, her struggle is apparent in relation to mirrors: fractured images that refuse to provide her with a coherent sense of self. As a result, and quite unlike Narcissus, her relation to reflective surfaces (or persons) is one of revulsion. For they open up a world in which she cannot, and does not, see herself. The only images they provide are those which she cannot bear.

Like the son, she is buried in a pit of darkness absent the kind of capaciousness provided by echoed light. No room to breathe. She has learned to prefer it that way. Upon entering the ghostly mansion, the mirrors are immediately shrouded. A routine practice, it would seem, as if she were attending a permanent wake. But whereas his unwanted companion is an inarticulate and unfocused rage, her life is lived in a permanent lock-down. Cold as ice.

We will learn that this world of hers is also connected to the mother. It is an inheritance, just like the son’s perhaps, of the kind of “mirror” provided by the one to whom she owes her existence. For in a mother’s delight, or in her anger and despair, a child acquires eyes with which to see. And much of what that child will apprehend, in others and in herself, will reflect precisely what captured the mother’s imagination, whether beautiful or not. The fact that these soon-to-be lovers are caught in worlds of shadow and dark speaks of this maternal inheritance we all share, knowingly or not.

Other Eyes with Which to See

Apart from the doctor’s occasional visits to the mansion, there is no father figure to save the day. Instead, we are introduced to the universe of words that has been the daughter’s sole consolation. It is, in fact, a relation that verges on the erotic. The touch of them – the binding, their pages, the ink – upon her skin. The whisper of paper against her face. The dusky odor acquired from years of disuse. Waiting just for her.

Her name is Marie (“Sea of Sorrow”) and these books speak of worlds which she fiercely claims as her own. It is as if the library is a sanctuary that holds secrets only she is able to hear. Her new job, reading for a blind and spoiled boy, gives her access to this holy place, and she will break him – by force if necessary – if that will ensure her continued access to that hallowed room. For the books speak of spaces different from what mirrors are able to offer. In fact, they provide nothing short of Grace.

This is the world to which she introduces him, almost inadvertently. For when she finally manages to drain the fight out of him, he begins to listen. And what she witnesses is nothing short of extraordinary. As she reads, he is transported to another world – can actually “see” it – and grapples to enter it. Or so it seems. The snowflakes of which she reads float before his eyes and, as if for the first time, he finds himself in a place other than that from which he has been struggling to escape.

It is a world he knows well. It’s the one provided by Hans Christian Andersen in The Snow Queen, which tells of a shattered mirror that turns all it reflects into ugliness, and countless fragments that shower upon the earth. Should a splinter pierce an eye, all one sees is turned into nothingness; should a shard lodge itself in a heart, it will turn to ice. Such is the fate of a young boy, Kai (“keeper of the keys”), held captive by the Snow Queen, ruler of these haunting flecks of ice. Entranced by the beauty of his frozen prison, he is fated to forever remain under the Queen’s spell, until he is able to trace the lines of eternity in its icy embrace.

It is through the reading of this story, when sorrow crosses the heart of winter, that their two worlds meet.

An Other World (to be Found)

“When the story is done, maybe we’ll know more than we do now.”
– The Snow Queen

This is the film’s set-up, taking no more than a quarter of an hour. What happens next can only be touched upon here, for it is best that viewers experience the unfolding of these stories on their own.

However, this much can be said: When she finally allows the blind one to “see” her, and he finds her knotted flesh beautiful – like “frost flowers,” he says – she is emboldened to revisit that which has caused her to run for so long. Mirrors are unveiled, and tentative glances thrown their way. Fingers are allowed to run across her own skin, wondering what it is that his touch has seen, and how that compares with what she has come to believe of herself.

His reaction to her body is stunningly similar to her relation to books. The absence of light suffuses his exploration of the continent he finds before him. The texture of her skin, a cartography of its own. Fingertips graze gently while head is bowed, alert to the whisper of night and the scent of the sky. Angry rivulets transformed into the secret language of the forest.

For a moment – just for an instant – we see a smile cross her face. But the reverie cannot last, not least of all because Ruben’s sight will be returned to him. The miracle of modern science, the doctor says.

And so she flees.

He will search for her far and wide, just as she will elude him, forever beyond his reach. Should they finally meet, their future will hinge upon how they come to understand the story of The Snow Queen. For the moment, however, he is desperate for the happy ending: he wants her to be with him. She, on the other hand, is unable to do so, for she cannot – and will not – put her faith in children’s tales.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, the boy is saved by his playmate and dearest friend, Gerda, who has searched the world over in order to find him. This is surely what Ruben seeks from the “invisible” Marie. And yet, in this story, we find him searching, as if he were destined to play both parts: the boy held in captivity, marooned from the world of the living, as well as the one who travels the seasons, single-minded in his determination to find the Other.

But it is worth asking: who is the Snow Queen here? In whose captivity does he find himself, and under whose spell do we find him entranced? Is it his mother, whose care and proddings he refused so violently, bellowing as if the world had come to an end? Or is it the “invisible” Marie, the one who – far away and so close – has captured his mind’s eye and without whom life has become an impossibility?

And what does it mean that the one-who-holds-the-key will remain imprisoned until, using fragments of ice, he is able to trace the lines of “eternity”?

Some have described the film’s closing as heartbreaking; others will surely describe it as breathtaking. Regardless, not only does Tamar van den Dop’s film provide us with a variation on The Snow Queen, it also provides us with a re-telling of the classic Greek myth of Oedipus and – not insignificantly – a challenge to the uses to which that tale has been put. For in sharing with us her own meditation in Grey and Black, we are offered the opportunity to explore the loss of sight in a world gone wrong, and the path to liberation from pain and suffering. Whatever else might be said, this is surely the state in which Ruben is enmeshed, one that some would rightfully call samsara.

Just as the Snow Queen did with her captive boy, Marie used to take Ruben to the middle of the frozen lake, exploring its glassy surface with him. And while Marie might not have said so, the tale of The Snow Queen makes this much absolutely clear: this lake-which-is-not-a-lake is precisely where the Queen sits whenever she is at home alone, calling it “the best thing in the world.”

She calls it The Mirror of Understanding.

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~ by mistified on September 4, 2009.

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