To See or Not To See
Surprisingly, only a few cases of restored sight have occurred during the past 200 years. In At First Sight, viewers get the opportunity to find out why many of the people involved in these cases were not able to deal with their new lives and preferred not to see.
Val Kilmer (Mindhunters) plays Virgil Adamson, a small-town blind masseur who undergoes experimental surgery to correct his physical blindness. Virgil agrees to the operation at the request of his new girlfriend, a stressed-out New York architect, portrayed by Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite).
Even though the surgery seems successful, Virgil faces serious problems adjusting to the world of sight. He discovers that to become a sighted person he must give up his life as a blind person -- a life he's found quite satisfying.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of the true story behind this contemporary love story, writes, “Blind people are touch people, with tremendously developed powers of touch. Virgil doesn’t see his blindness as a problem. He’s not complaining. His touch world, his hearing world, his work as a masseur, his interest in sports are all in remarkable shape. It is others, sighted people, who think he should be given sight.”
Kilmer’s portrayal of Virgil communicates both sensitivity and strength. His projection of emotional confusion when seeing objects for the first time comes across with amazing realism. In preparing for this challenging role, Kilmer studied the movements of a sculptor friend who was blinded in Vietnam. According to Kilmer, there’s a lot of Virgil in this friend. “He also has a great sense of humor and the inner strength you must have to survive.”
Although director Irwin Winkler (Night and the City) admits being drawn to this story because of its scientific theme, he had the good sense to avoid making a medical documentary. “The technical challenge was finding a way to show what the world looks like to someone who hasn’t seen,” Winkler explains. “The challenge artistically was keeping that technique to a minimum so it didn’t become a distraction to the human story.”
Unfortunately, neither Kilmer’s strong performance nor Winkler’s humanistic approach -- noble as it is -- hides the fact that At First Sight ends up as an overlong melodrama. The love scenes seem forced (except for one erotic massage sequence); extraneous characters such as Sorvino’s ex-husband take up too much screen time; and the background music manipulates emotions without a trace of restraint.
Still, it’s somewhat refreshing to watch a movie that doesn’t feature violent behavior, mind-numbing special effects, or even one car chase.
(Released by MGM and rated “PG-13” for scenes involving sexuality and nudity, and for brief strong language.)
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