Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"The Sensation of Sight": a teacher, after a tragedy, faces real life

The indie film “The Sensation of Sight” (2005), directed by Aaron J. Wiederspahn, unfolds like a stage play, and at 135 minutes is as long and as quiet as most of them.

David Strathairn plays Finn, a small town high school English teacher who has mysteriously quit teaching, left his wife and little daughter, and started selling encyclopedias door-to-door from a child’s wagon.  Finn encounters a number of towns people, including a single mom, and troubled teen (Ian Somerhalder), as we begin to piece together what has happened (many of the incremental flashbacks are in black and white). A good clue is that he is followed by a silent young man in untucked white shirt and tie, observing him.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say what happened.  Near the end, we find out.  The young man was a student, apparently failing his class, who gave Finn some encyclopedias and then shot himself dead right there in the classroom, in front of Finn, who then goes about his personal penance.
Finn is said to be slightly autistic, perhaps with Asperger’s syndrome himself.  (He says, “Life is a second language”.) There’s one line where a town teen won’t give him a motorcycle ride because he would look a little too “gay”.  Perhaps so.  This film was made before the public understood the scope of the bullying problem, especially for gays, and is deliberately vague on these matters.
Finn is also criticized, several times by different characters, for his self-absorption, beyond his bookish, boxed-in existence.  The single mom says that life is about interacting with other people, and that it is an unaffordable conceit to think you can understand yourself or your own life as a prerequisite to commitment to others.
The film was shot in (“Our Town”) Peterborough, NH, in the south central part of the state.  It opens and closes with an autumnal shot of an estate that looks European. The chamber music score (a lot of cello and piano in an irregular rhythm) seems to be composed by Scott Pettigrew. 

As for encyclopedia sales, we bought the World Book from a door-to-door salesman in 1951.  People used to do this. There’s a scene early where Finn insults a potential customer, who comes back and agrees to buy on book for $20, and chides Finn “don’t blow your sale”.  Always be closing.

The film is distributed by Monterey and had a brief theatrical run in 2008.  It showed at the San Sebastian film festival (Spain). It was shot in 18 days.  The DVD has a long featurette ("Inside 'The Sensation of Sight'") by Ron Wyman) on the making of the film.  The official site is here

Picture: Tilton, NH (mine, 2011), not far from site of film. 

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