Notes on Blindness (5 stars)

Notes on Blindness

Remarkable documentary imaginatively exploring theologian John Hull’s loss of sight

Theologian John Hull lost his sight in the early 1980s. In order to make some sense of what was happening to him, he recorded hundreds of cassettes about the practical challenges of his blindness and the philosophical questions it raised for him.

In Notes on Blindness, directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney employ actors lip-synching to those recordings as they create an elegiac, incredibly immersive portrait of Hull and his family. The result is a haunting, throat-catching documentary that shares some of the lyrical power of Clio Barnard’s The Arbor or Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life.

Hull (played here by Dan Renton Skinner) died last summer as the film was being completed. He appears to have been a decent, gentle man with a keen analytical mind, qualities that are reflected in the film. There is no self-pity in Hull’s words, which only makes the film more heartrending. He demonstrates an acute sensitivity to others as he attempts to fathom the meaning of his blindness. The effort to smile with no hope of seeing a return is likened to sending out dead letters. He worries that the blindness will isolate him from his wife Marilyn (Simone Kirby) and their children. ‘Shall I scratch my eyes out?’, she suggests. ‘Shall I come with you into this world?’

The bigger questions for Hull revolved around, as he puts it, ‘whether I was going to live in reality or live in nostalgia.’ His philosophical tussle with blindness, his constant feeling of loss and what it meant for his faith are utterly compelling. It is remarkable that he was able to reach a state of grace in which he came to view his blindness as a gift. The journey towards that is the basis of a deeply moving and unexpectedly uplifting film.

Selected release from Fri 1 Jul.

Notes on Blindness

  • 5 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 30min
  • U
  • Directed by: Pete Middleton, James Spinney
  • Cast: Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby,
  • UK release: 1 July 2016

Haunting, throat-catching drama-documentary about theologian John Hull (Skinner), who went blind in the early 80s and recorded hundreds of cassettes in which he talked about his condition and what it meant to him. Actors lip-sync to his recordings, creating an elegiac, immersive and deeply moving portrait of Hull, his…