Drama (US); 1999;
Rated PG-13; 128 Minutes
Val Kilmer: Virgil Adamson
Mira Sorvino: Amy Benic
Kelly McGillis: Jennie Anderson
Steven Weber: Duncan Allanbrook
Bruce Davidson: Dr. Charles Aaron
Nathan Lane: Phil Webster
Produced by Rob
Cowan, Roger Paradiso and Irwin Winkler; Directed by
Irwin Winkler; Screenwritten by Steve Levitt,
Irwin Winkler and Rob Cowan
by DAVID KEYES
First Sight" allows us to greatly examine the world from
a unique point of view. It's like waking up for the first
time and seeing skylines of a city, cabs on streets, and
the buildings standing tall and proud, as our eyes become
dazzled at the breathtaking views before us. We study each
shape and movement with absolute intrigue and nourishment.
Our faith that that the world is an exciting and flourishing
place is renewed, and our souls feel reborn in the splendor
of its magnificence. Time and time again do the sights and
sounds overwhelm our sense, and seldom do we feel displeased.
is a movie that allows us to view familiar landscapes with
refreshment and open-mindedness like "Pleasantville," except
there, everything you saw was fictional. "At First Sight"
takes us to places we've been before, but it takes us inside
the mind of a person who's never actually seen it for himself.
To him, this is a new territory to discover, and therefore,
he takes us along with him on his journey of discovery.
His travels are restorative to the senses. In the end, we
discover a new world right along with him.
guide is Virgil Adamson, a masseur, played by Val Kilmer.
Since early age, he has lived in a dark, brooding world
of blindness, content to see only what he wants to see,
and imagining things as he wants them imagined (it's funny
how in these movies the blind person makes us feel like
we should be blind right along with them). His obligation
from seeing the world in reality is no problem with him.
In ways, it's actually a better thing; he isn't restricted
to see the things we do everyday. His mind can create his
own pictures and illusions of what exists around him. It's
like reading a book and trying to create mental pictures
of the landscapes as the author describes them. The only
difference is that here, you have a real place and a real
person trying to imagine his own world, as if it were only
descriptions of a writer's novel.
the movie, Virgil meets Amy Benic (an architect) during
a massage session, and she's portrayed by the gifted, charming
Mira Sorvino. Amy's there because of recent job success,
and if there's one thing that makes her feel better, it's
Virgil's hands. They are the hands of a god. His touch and
movement ease her tension, soothe her soul, and make her
feel content with life again. After only a couple of sessions
and conversations with each other, they fall in love. And
why shouldn't they? Watching them on screen together is
like watching one of those old passionate screen romances,
like Ingrid Bergman and Spencer Tracy in "Casablanca."
the movie leads us to the big city. Despite the protests
of his overprotective sister Jennie (Kelly McGillis), Virgil
leaves home with Amy, hoping that his blindness can be omitted
by a big New York City doctor. Amy studies the case and
finds an operation technique that can reverse the process
of his disorder. He takes the risk and goes through the
surgery. Doctors warn him that he "could lose sight of what
he already sees," but he takes his chances. He wants to
see the world as we do. Once his bandages are removed, though,
he feels grief-stricken. "This can't be right," he announces.
"This can't be seeing! Something is wrong." Indeed, the
effects of surgery have restored his sight, but certainly
not in the way he anticipated. Originally, he went blind
at age 3, and since this is, after all, taking place over
twenty years later, the restoration has brought back a sight
that he's coped without. To him, bringing it back would
be easy, since he's lived with it once before. Twenty years
can sure change the possibilities of vision.
objects and people around him swerve and attune poorly through
his eyes. The camera films his trauma through the very pupils
which have gone through surgery, and we test the stability
of restored eyesight right along with him. Everything seems
like a daze. The coordination is unbearable and confusing.
During his struggle (as well as ours), an acquaintance leaned
over to me and asked, "If he knew that regaining sight was
going to be this difficult, why did he go through with the
surgery?" That's a good point, but think for a moment about
his actions. He knew that regaining sight would be tremendously
difficult, yes, but he did it anyway. Doesn't that at least
say that Virgil really wanted to see again, regardless of
the expected difficulties he would encounter?
endeavors range from here and there after the operation,
and director Irwin Winkler's concept pays close attention
to the minor and staggering details of the struggle Virgil
encounters along the way. It's as if he's not the only person
who has had sight restored to him. Trying to tell the difference
between what is real and what is not becomes a strenuous
task, even for us. During a discussion, a character holds
an object in his hand and asks Virgil to examine it. "Is
this an apple, or is this a picture of one?" We're not sure
of the answer, either.
movie is supposedly based on fact, and for once, I believe
it. The story comes from the pages of one of the many Oliver
Sacks documents of medical miracles. His study also inspired
a similar movie called "Awakenings," in which characters
were effected with a debilitating sleeping disorder and
were then given a chance to cope with its aftereffects,
before returning to the state that they started in. There,
the characters took us along the journey of their slow recovery,
and then eventually the recession that took them back to
the state of sleeping. The difference between that movie
and this one is, perhaps, the level of effectiveness in
the performances. Both films are equally as good, but the
Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams characters of "Awakenings"
were heartwarming and beautiful. While Val Kilmer and Mira
Sorvino provide us with some serious and stable acting in
"At First Sight," sometimes they seem underwritten, as if
a piece of the puzzle is missing somewhere along the lines.
Kelly McGillis as Virgil's sister is sometimes distracting
from Sorvino and Kilmer, but thankfully, once she's out
of the picture, both of them develop as much as the script
allows them to. Even though we would have liked to know
more about both of them, at least we respect and appreciate
First Sight" was essentially well-received by audiences
(as far as I could tell), but some thought that the film
was too long for its material. What do you expect, though?
Movies like this need as much time as possible on screen:
we need the time to get to know the characters, to explore
the situations, to witness the recovery, and then to see
the person cope with it in whichever way they can. Virgil's
loss of sight for twenty years is bound to have some serious
side-effects once it has been recovered, and the movie allows
us to endure the trauma and hope as much as possible, without
being overlong or unnecessary. It also gives us plenty of
time to see the disorder and recovery through the vision
of the patient. The world surrounding him is refreshing
and new to him, as well as to the audience. When you are
a passenger of a moving vehicle, close your eyes for a couple
of minutes. Try to picture new sights and new landscapes
along the roads you have traveled before. No doubt, you
visualize things that you want to see, and imagine things
that you want to imagine. Is that any different from this
case? Better yet, do you even want to open your eyes after
you are used to it?
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.