3 Stars — Challenging

Senseless tragedy can throw any person into despair, but when the person feels in some way responsible for the event, the despair can become debilitating. That is the theme of Aaron Wiederspahn‘s artistic drama The Sensation of Sight.

As writer and director, Wiederspahn sets a consistent mood and pace that communicates as much an emotion as a story. Abandoning a linear storyline in favor of an interwoven tale of past and present, physical and spiritual, Widerspahn imagines a man whose despair has driven him from the love of his wife, the needs of his son and the fulfillment of teaching into a Sisyphean task of endlessly rolling his little red wagon door to door selling encyclopedias. This troubled man is named Finn (David Strathaim).

Although the tale is ostensibly about Finn, this nonlinear style of story-telling also weaves a fabric in which all of the characters in the film are equally a part of the telling. Without exception, every person has his or her own troubles that we soon discover are interwoven with Finn’s.

There is a troubled boy, whose appearance is sporadic but significant. There is a single mother, Alice (Jane Adams), and her daughter, Ruthie (Cassidy Hinkle), whose husband and father is both avoided and invited. There is a handsome loner (Ian Somerhalder) who is drifting through the film haunted by the loss of his brother. There is a lonely widower, Tucker (Scott Wilson), whose daughter, Daisy (Elisabeth Waterston), is persistently trying to get him to reunite with his estranged son Dylan (Daniel Gillies). Finally, there is the haunting presence of Tripp (Joseph Mazzello), a young man whose life was cut tragically short by his own hand.

Though full of tragedy, the film has a pervasive sense of grace and hope. It is clear that though some of the characters are threatening in various ways, there is no sense that evil is a part of this tale. Instead, the focus is on failure: failure to be there for each other in their times of need; failure to understand the pain that each one is suffering; failure to realize that their lives can have a larger ability to see if only they would come into the “light.” 

When darkness overtakes us, it is logically necessary that we come into the light, but we often don’t choose that path. The Sensation of Sight reminds us that if we want to see in the dark, then we require a light that can enter the darkness and give us not only the sensation but the reality of sight.


» In the prologue and epilogue chapters of the tale, Finn is sprawled out before a foreboding New Hampshire structure. What do you believe Wiederspahn is conveying by that choice? Is it a home, a business, a barn? What do the various characters who pass him by signify to you? 

» The lack of religious resources in Finn’s life leaves him surrounded by darkness in his hour of need. Have you ever experienced such darkness? Where did you turn for light? 

» The final solution to the tale comes from the encyclopedia itself. Did you find the solution adequate to the darkness of the tale? Why or why not?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.