Scaling Heights Without Sight

Cinematographer Michael Brown guides Dachung, one of six blind Tibetan teenagers who tackle Mount Everest in
Cinematographer Michael Brown guides Dachung, one of six blind Tibetan teenagers who tackle Mount Everest in "Blindsight." (By Didrik Johnck)
Friday, March 14, 2008

"Blindsight" makes us consider an apparent paradox that, for the blind, is the philosophical starting point of their day: how to see things the human eye won't register.

Watching Lucy Walker's spiritually aware documentary, we come to appreciate this as six blind Tibetan teenagers set out to climb Mount Everest, accompanied by professionals, including an adult blind climber.

These plucky boys and girls are not seeking symbolic victory -- the photo-opportunity kind that brings tears to the eyes of outside observers. Nor does their journey have anything to do with the majestic mountainscape that we -- or most of us -- see on the big screen. They are simply trying to prove to themselves that their lives have as much value as the sighted and that they can -- on a whim -- traverse crevasses with deadly drops they can, literally, only imagine.

The movie is also fascinating for the ideological debate that takes place among members of the support team. On one side is blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, the spirit of macho adventure itself, who has climbed the highest peaks on every continent; on the other is Sabriye Tenberken, founder of Braille Without Borders, the Tibet-based school for the blind, who is fiercely protective of her students. Also blind, Tenberken understands that if her young charges happen to reach the 23,000-foot peak of Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest, well, that's wonderful. But it's not everything. What counts is that they can assimilate what is going on. Mainly what they like to do on this mountain trip is talk about the climb at the camps, relive the day's slogging in the memory, retell it as their shared story and give the whole thing a whirl in front of the inner eye. Give it vision.

-- Desson Thomson

Blindsight PG, 104 minutes Contains mild profanity. At Avalon Theatre. Blindsight PG, 104 minutes Contains mild profanity. At Avalon Theatre.


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