Fittingly for a suspenseful fable about blindness, vision and illusions, the central focus of “All I See Is You” is the proverbial evil eye. Not the sort you’d find on a cyclops or witch, but the type that many share, the injurious one that observes what it wants, ignoring a great deal that causes unease.
Writer/director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace,” “World War Z”) does flawed but fascinating work in this tense, twisty, sexual and psychological puzzle.
A story of a blind woman whose vision is surgically restored, it opens like a standard husband-wife relationship drama between Gina (Blake Lively, impressive in a complex role) and James (Jason Clarke, solid as a man with more concerns than meet the eye). They are a committed couple living well in Bangkok, where he sells life insurance. Gina lost her sight years earlier in a car accident that killed her parents. James dotingly cares for her, helps her travel around the exotic city and receives her unbending trust.
From the earliest moments we understand that this film operates without the constraints of normal storytelling. Part of what it shows us is objective reality. But other moments are presented through Gina’s abstract frame of reference. Her illusory inner life is a starry-eyed fantasia largely based on what the optimistic James has told her. We see their apartment from her rose-colored viewpoint, its balcony giving a breathtaking vista of the city.
Through a filmic palette of distorted and blurred shots, Forster shows Gina’s point of view, a kaleidoscope of shifting colors and light. He repeatedly uses visuals like Rorschach tests, keeping us uncertain whether the exotic fish in the couple’s aquarium are real or red herrings from Gina’s mental images.
Then tensions begin to rise when a corneal transplant returns her vision in one eye. Freed from her husband’s guardianship, she begins to reinvent herself independently, aspiring to better things. James is dejected that Gina, who once clung to him, is now making eye contact with other men.
A return visit to their honeymoon suite in Barcelona sours as she recognizes that the room he has rented isn’t the one they used before (he’s aiming to impress her with a much finer luxury space). Their shrinking intimacy goes further on edge as she blindfolds him and ties his wrists for an erotic ride in their overnight train’s sleeping room. Along their trip we meet characters with disturbing fixations and random acts of violence promoting the feeling that the surreal is an active part of our everyday life, if only we’ll see it.
At times the film feels like a better-acted, gender-bending version of “50 Shades of Grey” with a side order of “Gone Girl.” That might sound like too much to digest, but the filmmakers handle the ingredients skillfully. The narrative is intricate and meaningfully surreal rather than opaque and frustrating. Forster is excellent at manipulating the audience into feeling raw emotions at a deep, dark level.
As it progresses, it’s unclear which character deserves our goodwill, or if either does. There is material here to sustain many a debate, but the core theme is clear. Love is not blind, but it causes blindness.