At First Sight
Reviewed by: Mia J. Burruss
Starring: Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis, Steven Weber, Bruce Davison, Nathan Lane, Ken Howard, Kerry Barden, Allison Smith, Suzanne Smith | Director: Irwin Winkler
It takes a blind man to open up Amy’s world to things unseen, but very real, like faith and love. You cannot see faith or love, only its results.
A delightful love story between a blind masseuse, Virgil, and a sucessful architect, Amy, “At First Sight”, explores the very definition of what seeing is.
Sight-seeing takes on a new meaning in the movie “At First Sight” (MGM). Based on real events recounted by Dr. Oliver Sacks in his story “To See and Not to See,” “At First Sight” reveals that the most important things in life must be embraced with the heart.
Amy Bernic, portrayed by Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, begins learning this lesson when she meets blind masseuse Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer). Stressed out from owning and running an architecture firm in New York City, Amy travels upstate for some much needed rest. She meets calm, charismatic and handsome Virgil at the resort after signing up for a daily massage.
Virgil and Amy immediately form a bond and begin cultivating a more personal relationship. Much to the dismay of Virgils overprotective sister, Jenny (Kelly McGillis), Amy suggests an experimental surgery to restore Virgils eyesight. Not wanting to lose Amy, Virgil agrees to the surgery and his sight is restored. But all get more than they bargained for.
Through Virgil’s experiences, the movie explores what seeing actually is. Intelligent and well adjusted as a blind man, Virgil is like a fish out of water as a sighted man. All his life he has learned through sound, smell and touch. Now his whole world is turned into chaos because of his newfound sight. He is actually more handicapped and dependent as a sighted person initially than he was as a man who could not physically see.
The couple enlists the help of Dr. Phil Webster (Nathan Lane) to help Virgil become born again as a sighted person. Dr. Webster is unorthodox, but honest. Nathan Lane as Dr. Webster certainly adds humor to the film.
Both Virgil and Amy learn that sight is more than just functioning of the eye organs. Amy describes a horizon for Virgil. When Virgil receives his sight, he looks for the horizon, which is impossible to see in the heart of New York City surrounded by skyscrapers. He comments that just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it is not there. Amy’s reply is “Yes. That’s what faith is, I guess.”
Kilmer displays his skill as a master of his craft by convincing audiences he is blind. The way he lifts his head up and away from the person he is talking to, never forming a direct face-to-face line, is one of many subtle ways Kilmer proves his believability. When Virgil’s eyes are opened, Kilmer stumbles around awkwardly as a large child encountering things for the first time. Kilmer is careful not to overplay the dramatic and portrays Virgil Adamson as a real person who audiences can relate to.
Mira Sorvino is fair at her portrayal of Amy. She doesn’t take away from the film. Unfortunately, her performance doesn’t add much to it either. Kilmer brings the power and the passionate to their scenes together.
Renowned director/producer Irwin Winkler captained “At First Sight”. Most acclaimed as a producer of “Rocky”, Winkler also directed “The Net” (1995) and “Guilty by Suspicion” (1989).
Technically, the film could have been more visually creative. Clearly Winkler chose to focus on the romantic aspects developing between Virgil and Amy rather than the opportunity for glossy special effects.
There are several occasions when God’s name is used as profanity. There is some brief nudity. Overall, “At First Sight” is an entertaining movie that explores sight on a deeper level than merely your physical dimensions.
Even with 20/20 vision, “At First Sight” tunes the vision for things unseen like faith and love. After viewing the movie, one cannot help but to be more aware of things unseen and more appreciative of the things that can be seen.
Year of Release—1999