The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic Is a Thrilling, Empathetic Odyssey

Movies Reviews Glasgow Film Festival 2022
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic Is a Thrilling, Empathetic Odyssey

Teemu Nikki met Petri Poikolainen during their Finnish national service in the 1990s; they became friends, but lost touch soon after. Nikki went on to be a respected movie director; Poikolainen had just begun to make a name for himself as a stage actor when he was struck with a devastating MS diagnosis, which eventually took his sight and ability to walk. When he reconnected with Nikki more than 20 years after their first meeting, the director suggested making a film together.

In that film, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic, Poikolainen plays Jaako, who is also blind, uses a wheelchair and has MS. His days are lonely and long, punctuated by the robotic voice of his phone reminding him to take his medication; awkward calls from his dad, simultaneously distant and over-protective; and very welcome calls from Sirpa (Marjana Maijaala). Sirpa—who Jaako met online and has never encountered in real life—is gravely ill with cancer, and the two spend as much of their days as they can manage on the phone, talking about everything from the severity of their illnesses to which Friends character they’d be (both: Chandler). When Sirpa’s cancer takes a sudden turn for the worse, Jaako decides to embark upon a three-hour solo trip to visit her, despite the many daunting obstacles he will face along the way.

The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic is shot in extreme shallow focus: The sole consistently clear portion of the screen being Poikolainen’s face, with the world around it cloudy and obscure. While this unconventional method doesn’t exactly replicate sightlessness for the viewer, it does encourage an unusually intense empathy with our protagonist. Spending the duration as the only character in focus puts unenviable pressure on Poikolainen’s performance, and he proves himself well worthy of the challenge. He’s such a warm, compelling presence, it doesn’t take long to forget just how unusual the film’s stylistic conceit is. It helps that Jaako isn’t depicted as either a martyr or self-pitying; he’s not defined by his illness. He can be thorny, but he has a whipsmart humor and an all-abiding love for the pre-’90s work of John Carpenter. It’s a pleasure to spend time in his company.

Jaako’s deep affection for action movies is an important thread throughout The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic—he mentions in an early exchange with Sirpa that it was when his diminishing vision made it impossible for him to tell Kurt Russell and the Husky apart in The Thing that he stopped watching movies all together. Making Jaako a film nerd is a smart touch, quickly enabling the audience to look past his intimidatingly grave disability to his eminently relatable personality. He assigns filmic faces to the people he’s never been able to see: Sirpa is Ripley, his healthcare assistant is Annie Wilkes, a couple of villains who show up later are the “two bad guys from Fargo.” He harbors a vehement loathing for Titanic despite having never watched it (hence that wonderfully cumbersome title). He calls his non-functioning legs Rocky and Rambo.

Although he’s been unable to enjoy his beloved action films for years, he’s absorbed them into his psyche in a manner that proves vital on his epic journey. When he first describes his outlandish plan to a disbelieving Sirpa, he says cheerfully, “I’ll only need to rely on five strangers.” Unsurprisingly, he soon runs into a pair who—to put it mildly—are anything but reliable. It’s here that the super-shallow focus pays huge dramatic dividends; because we can see little more than Jaako, we’re stranded in the same leaky boat as him, unable to ascertain precisely where the danger is, or to perform any of the typical safety checks a sighted person does without thinking.

Despite the danger, Jaako remains ice-cool, channeling his hero Russell as he tries to get a read on the villains, play them off against each other and attempt an escape in the face of terrifying odds. While he’s well aware of just how vulnerable he is, with no way of protecting himself but his well-honed wits, the gleefully defiant wisecracks he hurls at his assailants imply that—to some extent, at least— he’s relishing living his own action movie. That that complicated emotional web of fear and anger and enjoyment is so vividly, convincingly portrayed is of tremendous credit to both Poikolainen and Nikki.

Nikki has said on the interview circuit that he didn’t make The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic to espouse the importance of disability representation, but to find a way of working with his old friend, and the specificity of this approach prevents the film from veering into broadness or sentimentality. Still, it would be disingenuous to deny that Poikolainen’s condition gives Nikki’s movie an extra resonance, not least because—due to the degenerative nature of his MS—this might well be the only starring role he ever gets.

To labor over the sadness of the situation would be contrary to the spirit of the movie, so let us instead just be grateful that in the face of imposing physical restrictions, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic gives Poikolainen’s fiercely charismatic lead performance such a thrilling, empathetic home.

Director: Teemu Nikki
Writer: Teemu Nikki
Stars: Petri Poikolainen, Marjaana Maijala, Samuli Jaskio
Release Date: March 3, 2022 (Glasgow Film Festival)

Chloe Walker is a writer based in the UK. You can read her work at Culturefly, the BFI, Podcast Review, and Paste.

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