Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), the alabaster protagonist and puppet master of writer-director Eskil Vogt’s Blind, lives in a state Roman Polanski may have dreamed up. She’s got a handsome new Oslo apartment and a sturdy architect husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelson). The couple spoke of having children, but Ingrid has recently gone blind in the prime of her life. She’s never seen her new home, but as she adjusts to her new condition, she’s afraid to leave it. “It doesn’t feel like the ceiling’s as tall as he said,” Ingrid says in one of the film’s many voiceover passages. She worries over the source of unfamiliar noises, and wonders if her husband is text-messaging with other women as they lie together in bed. But as the film consciously echoes nervy, housebound fare like Rosemary’s Baby and Rear Window, Blind’s tenor is distant and downbeat.
Ingrid’s confinement sends her into a constant state of low-level epistemological uncertainty. She attempts to harness that paranoia by composing a work of fiction. That story becomes, by and large, the text of the film. While passing the time, sitting in a chair, Ingrid projects her fears onto two invented characters. Elin (Vera Vitali), similarly blond and frail, is a parent recently dislocated from her family and her home. Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), despite his efforts, has succumbed to anxiety and become a dedicated voyeur, experimenting with predilections on Internet porn sites. The pair seem fated to come together, but Ingrid begins to insert the remnants of her own life into the story: Ingrid becomes an active rewriter of her text once she has her husband befriend both characters.
Blind enacts Ingrid’s authorship with slippery visual flair. When Morten and Einar first talk, Ingrid begins to rewrite the location of their meeting; in a series of reverse shots, a cafe becomes a bus and then switches back again. Jens Christian Fodstad’s mercurial edits and Dogtooth cinematographer Thimios Baktatis’s tight, unorthodox compositions give these transitions an uncanny charge: They’re sudden and strange enough to shock and delight, but they’re so visually fluid that they translate as Ingrid’s decisive yet impulsive acts of authorship. The film’s tricky shifts gradually destabilize our sense of Ingrid’s reality: Was that stack of boxes next to the window in an earlier scene? Are they being packed, or unpacked? Did the ceilings of her apartment actually get lower?
Unfortunately, Blind’s occasionally thrilling visual sleight of hand comes at the ultimate service of a boilerplate early-midlife-crisis drama. As the film equates her fear of going outside with her uncertainty about bearing children and entering another great unknown, Ingrid’s blindness comes to seem more like a metaphor for her insecurity than a cause of it. Blind’s vivid thought experiments are set in stark contrast with scenes of mannered domestic drama, all of which needlessly underline the film’s themes. Amid Ingrid’s fits of invention, she spills her lunch on the floor and can’t clean up her own mess.
Vogt’s earlier films as a screenwriter, Reprise and Oslo, August 31st, displayed a similar instinct to stylishly explore contemporary alienation, but director Joachim Trier imbued Vogt’s scripts with an empathy and thirst for both intellectual and lived experience that Blind lacks. Those films are most notable for their perceptive attitude toward the value, and limits, of community and homosocial relationships. Blind, a more ambitious but far more hermetic work, takes social isolation as a given, imagining its lonely protagonist imagining other, even more lonely characters in order to grapple with her frustrations. Briefly addressing the tragic massacre committed in Norway by Anders Brevik, Vogt attempts to spin his film’s world-weariness into a diagnosis of his nation’s citizens, but like Ingrid, the director seems trapped in a narrative of his own design.