by Bill Stamets

What I Did Not See in “All I See is You”

Posted in Uncategorized by Bill Stamets on November 2, 2017

“All I See is You”
directed by Marc Forster
written by Marc Forster & Sean Conway
acted by Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Yvonne Strahovski, Danny Huston
presented by SC International Pictures
rated R for strong sexual content/nudity, and language
running time: 110 minutes


I did not get “All I See is You”

a) I did not notice the right things and connect them the right way.
b) The film is unambiguously about ambiguity and I did not get that.
c) The filmmakers incompetently crafted the uncertainty they sought.
That is, the motives of two key characters are indistinct in ways that did interest me.

I can see all of the above being partly true. It can be a treat or a chore to disambiguate clues and parry misdirection in a film. It depends on the spectator’s inclination to collude with the director. “I would prefer not to,” to quote the title character of Herman Melville’s 1853 story ‘‘Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,’’ scrivened a year after his “Pierre: or, the Ambiguities.”

Director Marc Forster is versatile, with credits including “World War Z,” “Machine Gun Preacher,” “Quantum of Solace,” “The Kite Runner” and “Stay.” His “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland” shuttle with finesse between the inner life of an author and the lived truth of other characters. Neither film is psychologically puzzling like “All I See is You.”

Before making his mark in 2001 with “Monster’s Ball,” Forster directed three features that he co-wrote. The first was the unreleased “Loungers,” shot on 16mm in 1995. According to the Internet Movie Data Base, the “storyline” of this “experimental absurdist musical” was “A lounge singer hires his sister, who suffers from amnesia, to kill their parents.”

Forster is co-writer of “All I See Is You” with Sean Conway. The “I” and “You” in the title possibly refer to both sightless Gina (Blake Lively) and her sighted husband James (Jason Clarke). Flashbacks to Gina’s childhood glimpse a car accident in Spain. Her parents died. She and her sister survived. This is when Gina lost her sight. The plot skips her years prior to marrying James and moving to Bangkok where he works in insurance. An operation restores vision to Gina’s right eye. Her left one was irreparably damaged.

What her new sight changes in her life is unclear. Does James change? Then Gina’s one good eye starts to go bad. Lies are told. The film is not lying to viewers but Forster and Conway go too far in not spelling out too much of what’s going on.

The press notes for “All I See is You” refer to “an almost perfect marriage.” In the pre-operative part of the story I saw no obvious imperfections. The couple’s good-natured disagreements usually end in laughter.

Post-operative Gina dyes her hair blond, adopts a neighbor’s elderly dog, and goes house-hunting. Making choices on her own is a side effect of seeing again. James, in turn, surprises her with a trip to Spain where they honeymooned and her sister lives now. There’s a slightly sharper argument about whether they are staying in “the exact same suite” they booked years ago. She is sure it’s different. He admits he lied about it for some reason. After they return to their high-rise apartment in Thailand, he buys the house Gina likes without telling her.

Sexual tension arises, even if this was not a pre-existing condition for the couple. James is concerned with what Gina sees and how others see her. On a night-time stroll at the Spanish resort they pass a beachfront room where a naked couple stands by their sliding glass door, making love with the lights on. James tells Gina she doesn’t want to see that. On a night out, James refuses to join his wife, her sister and brother-in-law when they take in a sex show at a club. One night in their train compartment Gina binds her husband’s wrists for some martial experimentation. And she records it. James is neither amused nor aroused.

Back in Bangkok, the couple gets ready for a big deal dinner with James’ work associates. James is taken aback at her look. “I just never seen my wife in a dress like that before,” he says. “I guess it’s not really you, huh?” Gina counters: “Well we don’t really know who me is, do we?” Me neither, at this point.

Another exchange underscores a mutually impaired regard.
“Did you love me more before?” –Gina.
“When you were blind?” –James
“Uh uh.” –Gina
“I could ask youth same thing.” –James
“No I asked you.” –Gina

All we may know for certain is what two doctors tell James and Gina– in the absence of the other. His doctor tells him he is infertile. Her doctor tells her the eyedrops she is presently applying are ineffective; a lab test shows they lack the prescribed antibiotic for her corneal transplant and iris reconstruction. That accounts for the inflammation and her failing vision, if not what occurred with her medicine. Neither spouse passes along those test results to the other. Both findings will put the couple in a bad light. At least from our perspective.

Gina’s eye surgeon is a tad shady. Dr. Hughes is played by Danny Huston, frequently found in the role of an unreliable character. Although the credits include an Eye Consultant, Dr. Hughs uses the improbable expression “interocular lens implantation.” That would mean implanting an eye midway between his patient’s right and left eyes, where mystical lore locates a “third eye.”

The cure of a blind lover figures in many French novels and plays between 1760–1830, notes University of Michigan lit prof William Paulson. “The eye surgeon was to prove an ambiguous figure in this literature, sometimes a virtuous hero of enlightened science, sometimes a vain old schemer, sometimes an out-and-out charlatan.” One instance in this genre was “The Blind Man Who Refused to See,” a story by Chevalier de Cerfvol in 1771. Identified with France’s “populationist” camp, he opposed celibacy and penned nine books advocating legal divorce.

In her 1824 pamphlet “Reflections on the Physical and Moral Condition of the Blind,” a 22-year-old blind woman named Thérèse-Adèle Husson cautioned against the blind wedding the blind. She sketched a dire prospect for such a match. “If this portrait is horrifying, that of a young, unmarried blind woman marrying a sighted man is even worse… I beseech women deprived of sight but with some money to live and die keeping hold of their precious freedom.”

“I’m pregnant,” Gina tells James towards the end of “All I See is You.”

Mating by the blind vexed Lucien Howe, an eye doctor and eugenicist who headed the Buffalo Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis and chaired the Committee of Hereditary Blindness in the Ophthalmology Section of the American Medical Association. At a June 1918 AMA meeting in Chicago he proposed: “It is unjust to the blind to allow them to be brought into existence simply to lead miserable lives. It is unjust to taxpayers to be compelled to support them.” The currently blind and kin of the congenitally blind would need to post up to $14,000 in bond to qualify for a marriage license.

Howe also suggested legislators let “innocent taxpayers” block “cacogenic marriages”: “When a man and woman contemplate marriage, if a visual defect exists in one or both of the contracting parties, or in the family of either, so apparent that any taxpayer fears that the children of such a union are liable to become public charges, for which that taxpayer would probably be assessed, then such taxpayer, on guaranteeing the legal costs, may apply to the County Judge for an injunction against such a marriage.”

“I am of the opinion that a really large percentage of the blindness is caused simply by neglect in early childhood,” stated Howe in 1893. He singled out German-American midwives– “not infrequently ignorant and careless in the extreme.” Howe also used the singular “woman” for all womankind. “I use that word in the generic sense, as including not simply the married woman, but that very considerable number– I think about 4,000,000– of the unmarried women, because they have motherly instincts, and if they are not married, they expect to be.”

On January 4, 1918 Howe appeared before the Committee on Woman Suffrage in the House of Representatives for over an hour. Women ought to deal with “infant mortality” instead of seek suffrage, he urged. Chairman John E. Raker: “You lay this loss in infantile life to woman, do you?” “Very, very likely,” answered Howe. “[W]omen should correct those defects as promptly and completely as possible… [W]e should have the energies of the women at all times directed to the care of those children… and not occupy their attention and energies with politics,” testified Howe on behalf of the American Constitutional League.

War raged in Europe, children died here. “One hundred and fifty thousand in one year! The battles around Verdun– in fact, the whole Compienge district– hardly gave in dead many more than that. That is only one year.”

Helen Keller urged blind women not to marry. Blind herself, she wrote in “Midstream: My Later Life” in 1929: “It would be a severe handicap to any man to saddle upon him the dead weight of my infirmities. I know I have nothing to give a man that would make up for such an unnatural burden.” Keller related her conversation with Alexander Graham Bell: “`I can’t imagine a man wanting to marry me,’ I said. `I should think it would seem like marrying a statue.’”

Publicized as a “psychological drama” and “obsessive love story,” “All I See is You” prompts vague suspicions about James and Gina alike. Someone broke into their apartment. Her dog is gone. Then a letter– with a misspelling of “know”– comes from someone who saw a man tie the dog to a fence: [I] “really believe in my heart that she belongs to me. When I look at her she looks back at me and that is called love. I now that you are missing her but I cannot give her back. It would make me too sad. Sorry.”

Eyes reflecting love is for pets and owners, as well as lovers. Gina teaches guitar to a neighbor girl. They appear on stage for a school contest. They strum and sing: “when I’m happy all I see is you… You can see the love that’s in my heart when you look deep into my eyes.” James leaves the auditorium when he hears the lyric “Say goodbye.”

Little in the film is that legible, except in the end credits where score titles include “I’ve Only Seen Them in Movies,” “I’ve Never Been to a Nightclub” and “Reality and Fantasy.”

Possessive sight and the female gaze are longstanding screen tropes. Yet “All I See is You” visualizes blindness and its cure without imagination. To quote the press notes quoting the director and co-writer: “`When I make a film, my visuals are always guided by the motivation of both the character and the story,’ Forster says. `In this case, I wanted to find a way to tell a story without the limitations of traditional narrative devices, where I could literally embody a painter and create innovative and fluid visuals.’” Cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser believes he sidesteps an obvious binary style: “now it’s Hollywood and now it’s avant-garde.”

The “traditional narrative devices” in this marital thriller are too indirect to my eye. Motives remain in a murk. I prefer the sublime opacity of the couple in “Last Year in Marienbad,” the unapologetically avant-garde narrative by Alan Resnais from 1961.

©2017 Bill Stamets