Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Eye Lacks Vision

God, I can’t wait to see a good movie again. It’s been two dumpers in a row – Elizabeth: The Golden Age and now The Eye, with Jessica Alba.
Based upon a Japanese film of the same name, The Eye is the story of a talented but blind violinist, Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba), who regains her sight with a cornea implant. Afterwards, she has the unfortunate side-effect of assuming the dead donor’s ability to see dead people, how they died and the shades that escort them to the other side.
At first she is confused, then frightened and ultimately determined to find out why she is having these visions. So, with the help of Paul Faulkner, her “ocular therapist” (Alessandro Nivola), Sydney traces her new corneas back to a young Mexican woman accused by her townspeople of being a witch.
Really, as you might have guessed, it’s a bit of a warmed over repackaging of the Sixth Sense. There’s even a recognition of this in the film when Dr. Paul finishes Sydney’s attempt to explain what she sees, “what, dead people?”
Ho ho – metacinema, how clever. Not.
In fact the only interesting and original thing about the film is the fact that when Sydney looks in the mirror, the person she sees is not herself but rather the young Mexican. She only realizes this when her sister gives to her a picture of herself.
There’s something interesting not only in the idea of looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself for who you are, but for a white American to look in the mirror and see a dead Mexican. Shame that wasn’t developed.
The real problem with this film is that everything that happens to Sydney is mechanical and external and doesn’t have any internal reflection.
If you still want to see the film and hate partial spoilers – stop reading now.
What happens when Sydney accepts her ability – she saves a group of people and she returns to being blind. But while it’s nice to save people, it was really the need of the dead Mexican girl, who acts through Sydney like a cipher.
And the return of blindness isn’t a choice but simply an accident of exploding glass. It is the deus ex machina, the invisible hand of plot necessity, conveniently tying up all the loose ends.
Even this might have been more profound if she had started the movie bitter at her blindness, the result of a childhood accident with firecrackers. But Sydney starts the movie content to be blind and she finishes the movie content to be blind. She starts the movie happily playing music. She finishes happily playing music. There is no change.
As a result it becomes all about effects – the effect of making us scared by ghosts who jump out of the shadows as violins play high, screeching notes. It gets boring real quick and the time between the scares becomes a distraction.
The one notable thing about this film is the treatment of Mexicans, which is a strong reflection of gringo fears about the Third World. It is the counterpoint of United States = science and rationality vs Mexico = superstition and magic.
There is a whole world of Others out there, in the Third World, that is scary and incomprehensible, though they may see something that we don’t and that something might just save our asses if we care to look. But, in the end, it’s better to just stay blind to it.
In that sense, what this film is really about is retreating from an engagement with the world into the abstractions of art for art’s sake. In that sense, I guess, it’s really an ad for Hollywood. Too bad you have to pay to see it.
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