Notes On Blindness- A Review
Notes on Blindness is the true story of academic and theologian John Hull. After losing his sight in the early 1980s, Hull began to record his observations and memories of life, blindness and life with blindness on hundreds of audio cassettes.
This documentary, in which actors lip-synch extracts from those recordings- and from more recent interviews with Hull, gives viewers a small insight into one family’s experience of losing eyesight and learning to live without it. At its heart, Notes on Blindness is a love story- the story of three very different kinds of love. First, the love between man and wife, second, the love between father and child, and third, the love between a man and his eyesight.
Hull (Dan Skinner) and his wife, Marylin (Simone Kirby) often seem to compare the experience of him going blind to death. She often says that she feels like he is going to a new world and she can’t come along. At one point Hull describes a Christmas where he struggled to keep his spirits up as he watched his five children opening presents. He gives the impression that he felt like a ghost- he couldn’t stay in the house, so he goes out but wonders “How could I walk out on Christmas Day?” and turns back and comes home again.
The documentary starts out with dark, depressing images- an eye operation, a flooded supermarket in which John and Marylin become separated, and sets dark enough to make viewers themselves feel like closing their eyes. However, as Hull slowly begins to accept blindness, the images become brighter and clearer- husband and wife dancing a slow dance, sitting talking, or walking on a beach.
At the time when Hull finds it difficult to accept blindness, he says that he loves being outside in the rain because he feels that the inside of his house is isolating. He even wishes that the rain would come inside so that he could hear and feel things!
Hull also stops smiling at the time when he cannot accept blindness, because, he says, he feels like he gets nothing back for his smiles, which take effort.
He gives the impression that even at the time when accepting blindness is difficult, he still enjoys teaching. He says that when he is teaching, his students are in his world of ideas.
Hull and Marylin take what they both agree was their last trip to Australia, where Hull grew up. Hull finds Australia totally different and unfamiliar to what he remembered. In contrast, when they return to England, he says he finds familiarity, because he knows, in his mind, where everything is in his home. He is able to do simple things in England, like play hide and seek with his child and make his wife a cup of tea.
In the end, Hull describes going into a church and feeling divine intervention. There he realises that blindness is a gift. He says that it is not a gift that he would choose for himself or his children, but still a gift, and that his question now was not why but what to do with it.
The film ends with a powerful quote from Hull, which can easily apply to people with all disabilities and none: “To find our whole humanity, blind people and sighted people need each other.”
Perhaps people who have acquired blindness, or some other disability, will be able to understand John Hull on a slightly deeper level than other viewers. However, overall, the film is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys non fiction and/or has an interest in disability issues.