14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Missiologically Helpful Film: Blindsight,
This review is from: Blindsight (DVD)
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary film called Blindsight. This is a story about six blind Tibetan teenagers (and their Western guides) who attempt to climb the 23,000 ft Lhakpa Ri - that's right next door to Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. And, overall, I found the film to be compelling, entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking. My attention was definitely locked in from the first scene and I was certainly moved by the story of these courageous teens. So, it's a very watchable movie, and I think you've got to start there.
Now let's talk missiology. There are a couple of missiologically significant themes in the film that are worth mentioning here. The first has to do with how Tibetan society deals with issues related to physical disability. Blindsight portrays these blind teens as outcasts from a Tibetan society that provides an explanation for their disability that blends Buddhist and folk religious ideas. Both thaumaturgical (e.g. evil spirits) and karmic (i.e. bad deeds done in past lives being punished in this life) are blamed for their blindness, resulting in a stigma that forces the children to the lowest places in the community. I was especially shocked to hear one Tibetan woman curse two of the boys by saying, "You aren't worthy to eat your father's corpse!" If I had a nickel . . .
A second missiologically significant theme is hinted at on the back of the DVD case in a quote attributed to Entertainment Weekly that mentions the "importance of journey versus destination." I think that in this regard the film does a good job of highlighting the U.S. American emphasis on accomplishment and finishing (represented well by the perspectives and attitudes of the American guides) over against an emphasis on journey. There is one memorable voiceover in which Sabriye Tenberken (the German woman who started the blind school in Lhasa where all the teens lived and studied), talks about how some of the kids had told her that they wished the climb hadn't been so rushed. They felt that there wasn't enough time to smell and feel and listen or to sing songs and tell stories to each other. This is a great example of the difference between monochronic and polychronic values - the Americans pushing the team on and on each day with specific goals and deadlines; the Tibetans wishing to sit awhile and listen to sound of the yak bells or entertain each other with stories. Well, I don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't go into any more details about how this theme is developed in the movie.
My biggest criticism of Blindsight was how the film gradually became too focused (in my opinion) on the Westerners and especially on the conflicts they were having with each other along the way. There is value here, of course, as it allows us to see how unconsciously Westerners can assume a dominant position vis-à-vis non-Westerners. It was particularly interesting to watch what seemed to be team meetings being conducted during which only the Westerners were talking, debating, and deciding. At one point an American guide said, "Well, finally I feel like we're communicating." This is in a tent full of Westerners and Tibetans, but what he meant was that the Germans and the Americans were "finally communicating." I guess I just wished that the filmmakers would have gotten more interviews and voiceovers with the teenagers, so I wouldn't have to guess so much at how they were processing the experience.
So . . . this is a good, compelling, moving and inspiring film that makes just good movie-watching on the one hand, but also provides rich fodder for missiological reflection and discussion on the other. I especially recommend it for use in classroom and training settings. People working in a folk religious or Tibetan context will find this particularly interesting as will those working cross-culturally among people with disabilities.
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Initial post: Jun 23, 2009 10:35:21 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 25, 2009 11:31:22 AM PDT
Lara Chetkovich says:
This is a really great review even though I had no clue what "missiological" means--is that a real word? I think you covered a lot of the crucial issues in the movie very well. However, I gotta disagree a clear West versus East critique can even be made--to me, it seemed more like a clash between the values of competition (investing in the strong and singling out the weak) which were shown in all cultures--Tibetan society, Chinese society AND in the attitudes shown by the Western guides--versus cooperativity (sticking together for the sake of the weak). Compassion won, and the kids had happy endings. Viewing the contrast of cultural thinking using a post-colonial critique of Western ideology calls into question Sabriye's mission of setting up a school for the blind: a Western woman "uplifting" the blind Tibetan children by educating them for a valuable social role...isn't this a bad thing? Isn't this an example of "White Man's Burden" or frank Orientalism to disparage the Tibetan view of blind children as backwards? Or is the frame of West versus East itself a little warped?
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