Notes On Blindness is a documentary about John Hull, a theologian who completely lost his eyesight in the early 1980s. During that time, he recorded an audio diary reflecting on and detailing his experience. The documentary features these recordings mixed over music and new images of actors recreating important moments from Hull’s life.
Notes On Blindness is the most beautiful film I have ever seen at Sundance. It would be high on the list of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen period. The film taught me a new meaning of of the word beauty. As Hull lost his sight, he became dis-integrated from the rest of the world. During a rainstorm one day, as raindrops resounded off every surface outside and gave Hull’s darkness scope and shape, Hull felt reintegrated into the world. He called this an experience of beauty. Watching this scene in Notes On Blindness was one of the most moving cinematic experiences of my life.
Hull’s reflections on losing his sight cover every aspect of blindness you would expect—he longs to know what his children look like; he has to reconcile emotionally with his new state; he questions God’s goodness—but his blindness forces him to reflect on surprising aspects of life as well. I won’t spoil them for you. And in every case, whether you are expecting him to reflect on a particular aspect of blindness or not, Hull’s conclusions are always deeper and richer than you can imagine.
I am (obviously) not blind. One of the reasons for the film is to conceptualize Hull’s lifelong insistence that blind and sighted people need one another to experience the fullness of life. (Hull dies in 2015 at the age of 80.) Notes On Blindness certainly succeeds in showing us the richness of experience blind people could bring to our sighted lives.
On another level, the film resonates with anyone who has had to step out of knowing and into unknowing. In my early twenties, I experienced a crisis of faith. Everything that had given my life context and meaning faded away, and though I never lost my faith entirely, I lost everything familiar about it. I had to embrace unknowing and learn to live my faith blind. Though difficult, this has proven to be a great gift, as I perceive aspects of life—physical and spiritual; increasingly I’m convinced we ought never to draw lines between the two—that I never knew before. Life is more wonderful and God is bigger than before.
Hull’s loss of sight is literal, but what he gains through that experience extends beyond the material world and into the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Notes On Blindness shares those gains with us. It is a new, essential piece of devotional cinema. Watch it alongside Ordet, Au Hasard Balthazar, Stalker, and The Tree of Life. Notes On Blindness is more than a documentary. It’s creed, confession, and testimony in cinematic form.