There are some questions we will never definitively know. The mysteries of the universe, and especially the possibility of an afterlife, are nothing new to humans. For centuries, we’ve been trying to parse out what our world beyond the everyday looks like. Psychics and mediums claim to be able to help lift the veil, offering comfort for those seeking answers about lost loved ones, their uncertain futures, or even their pets.
“Look Into My Eyes,” the latest documentary from Lana Wilson, which premiered at Sundance, decides to shift the focus from the work mediums do to the actual mediums themselves. The effect is a thoughtful, moving portrait of a community of people who want to do their best with the gifts they’ve received.
Following a slew of mediums of all ages, backgrounds and expertise, “Look Into My Eyes” blends traditional interviews with footage from real consultations the mediums have with their clients. It’s an effective brew that draws the line between the work the subjects of the documentary do and their rich inner and personal lives. Early on, we see a montage of lost people seeking answers about everything: there is the eighteen-year-old who feels uncertain about their future, the woman who wants to know if her rebellious dog truly loves her, and the young woman who wants to know about her birth parents.
We see these people at their most vulnerable, opening themselves up to the possibilities promised by the mediums in the film. It’s a powerful starting point that gets at the themes of the documentary directly. Soon enough, we’ll see and hear the mediums behind the sessions opening up as well.
The word psychic might conjure up images of crystal balls, seance rooms and haunted houses, but the reality is much more grounded and tender. We spend time with the psychics in their apartments all over New York and get to learn about how they came into their gifts and profession. They all have different stories, but what comes through is a desire to connect.
One psychic puts it succinctly: “I want to retreat from the world, but I want to connect to it, too.” Like everyone else who has a job they have interests outside of their metaphysical gifts. From acting, to performing at open mic nights in the city, to watching their favorite movies at home, “Look Into My Eyes” pulls back the curtain of what being a psychic means in the popular imagination and provides a real counterpoint to that image.
The film is as much a documentary about the people behind the clairvoyant profession as it is about the job itself. Like any other job, being a medium comes with complications, imposter syndrome and self-doubt. When one psychic is asked if he ever doubts whether what he does is real or not, his response is frank: “Oh, all the time, every day.” Another psychic must balance personal connections with psychic ones when a former classmate comes in for a reading about one of their former friends who took their own life. It’s a unique set of circumstances that highlights how psychic work can be both similar and deeply different than any normal job.
Wilson’s techniques here, blending the traditional methods of the documentary (the sit-down interview, the voice-over narration from a subject) and following her subjects as they do their jobs and live their day-to-day jobs are remarkable. By allowing her subjects to guide her through their unique world, we’re given an intimate, disarming look into a very specific world. It’s an approach that is reminiscent of Les Blank, the documentarian behind “Chulas Fronteras” and “Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers,” who let his subjects lead the way.
It’s an almost anthropological approach, but it never feels cold or distant. The sound design is largely silent, focusing on the moments we’re watching on-screen. The decision to not include a soundtrack reads as an intentional and grounded choice: we’re supposed to be here in this moment with the psychics. Overall, it’s clear the film wants us to sit with the subjects beyond their chosen profession or alleged gifts, a rare and disarming choice that strengthens the film.
Ultimately, “Look Into My Eyes” is a unique, intimate approach to subject material that thinks beyond the obvious. Instead of grappling with the biggest, clunkiest question about clairvoyance (“Is it real?”), Wilson looks at the people behind the work. The end result is a compelling, sometimes deeply moving portrait of professionals who are much more than their metaphysical gifts.
By following this group of mediums Wilson doesn’t solve the mysteries of the universe, but she does do something remarkable: unveiling the very human desires and drives that motivate us to reach out for something bigger than ourselves.
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