I’m no film critic, but I love movies. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve seen almost all the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor. I look forward to the holidays, not only because of the jingles and cozy family time, but because it marks the beginning of Oscars season. Every year I make a list of all the movies I want to see, and I create a detailed schedule for when I’m going to see them over the course of a couple months. To make it happen, I’ve seen 4 movies in 3 different theaters in one day — twice. So, I know some things about movies.
This fall, I saw Marc Forster’s eye-opening (no pun intended) drama, All I See Is You, about a blind woman who undergoes an operation and regains some of her sight. Starring Blake Lively and Jason Clarke as Gina and James, the film follows a happily married couple living as ex-pats in Thailand, where, because she is blind, Gina depends on her husband to take care of her. After the operation that restores sight to one eye, Gina discovers her life, and herself, in a whole new, liberating way. James finds her newfound independence and self-assured sexuality threatening, and neither can deny the seismic shift in their marriage.
I loved the film. Forster created original plot lines that explored the power dynamics and consequences of a codependent relationship. I still find myself reflecting on scenes and trying to tie up the loose ends up in my head. It’s a puzzle I enjoy trying to solve. Lively and Clarke were stellar in it — both gave honest, emotional, and convincing performances. They successfully depict the intimate and esoteric challenges that couples may experience when one person’s life dramatically changes and the other begins to feel insecure. And, Blake Lively reveals she can play guitar AND sing.
What impressed me most, though, was the surrealistic imagery weaved in throughout the film. The dreamy, kaleidoscopic, and, at times, erotic visuals were meant to represent Gina’s perspective of the world when she was blind. These scenes were like floating around in someone else’s dreams, someone who was much more creative and artistic than me. Forster and the Director of Photography, Matthias Koenigswieser, created a blurry, swirly, and whimsical wonderland — something I had never seen in a film before.
Imagine my disappointment when, the next day, I read that some of the reviews for All I See Is You thought Forster “overdid it” with these milky, abstract scenes. One even called them “visual disruptions”. Now, like I said, I am not a film critic — but these comments disturbed me.
I know it was important to Forster and Lively that they authentically depict how some blind people experience the world. In the early stages of this project, Forster met and spoke with a number of blind people about their experiences, and then brought in people who had lost their sight and regained it to watch and gauge the accuracy of certain scenes. As a result of those meetings, Forster and his team adjusted the sound to make the experiences seem as real as possible.
Additionally, throughout production of the film, Lively and Forster consulted with their mutual friend, Ryan Knighton, a blind writer, and another woman on the set, who was once blind but received a corneal transplant to regain some of her sight. In interviews, Lively discussed how in preparing for the film, Forster asked Knighton, and others, questions about what they imagine when they walk into a room. She explains Forster found himself assuming that they would imagine, more or less, what a traditional room looks like—to which they responded, “No way, why would we do that? That would be so boring!”
So, the visuals in the film were meant to be dramatic and fantastical, because that’s what their research had revealed. They wanted to accurately represent how people like Ryan experience the world. And boy, it certainly opened my eyes (again, no pun intended), and I found myself leaving the theater with greater empathy and understanding for people like Ryan.
Forster created a powerful and artistic film, with beautiful scenes that were painting-like. He wanted authenticity so that moviegoers could temporarily step inside the senses of a blind person, and perhaps feel uncomfortable, over-stimulated, or even frustrated. And because Lively is the protagonist, appearing in virtually every shot of the film, these visually abstract scenes had to be frequent and surrealistic. They were not only completely necessary to authentically tell the story, they were fascinating and thought-provoking.
The writers’ claims that Forster “overdid” it with these visuals indicate they missed a huge point, if not the most important point of the film. Those remarks signify that they were not interested, and they indirectly presumed that other moviegoers would not be interested, in learning how some blind people perceive and imagine their surroundings — which is extremely disheartening, and frankly, untrue. The comments are disturbing to me because, in a way, they belittle the experiences and lives of extraordinary people like Ryan Knighton — people whose experiences we should want to understand.
All I See Is You was never meant to be a mainstream Hollywood hit, but rather, tell a genuine story about gender roles and codependency in relationships. Forster wanted to tell this story from the perspective of a population that we all have grave misconceptions and misunderstandings about, perhaps, so we could gain more understanding and deeper empathy for others — something we could all benefit from right now. His use of frequent and whimsical imagery was integral in achieving that goal, and I don’t know why so many film critics missed that point. But I think it’s a real shame that they did.