At First Sight

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For the Nicholas Sparks novel, see At First Sight (novel).
At First Sight
At First Sight.jpg
Directed by Irwin Winkler
Produced by Rob Cowan
Irwin Winkler
Written by Oliver Sacks (Essay)
Steve Levitt (Screenplay)
Starring Val Kilmer
Mira Sorvino
Kelly McGillis
Steven Weber
Nathan Lane
Bruce Davison
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Ivan Muñiz
John Seale
Edited by Julie Monroe
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
  • January 15, 1999 (1999-01-15)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United States
Budget $60 million
Box office $22,365,133[1]

At First Sight is a 1999 American film starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, based on the essay "To See and Not See" in neurologist Oliver Sacks' book An Anthropologist on Mars and inspired by the true life story of Shirl Jennings.


Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) takes a break from working as an architect at a spa in Pinecrest, a small town outside New York City. Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer) is a masseur at the spa and gives Amy a massage. Amy breaks down and cries, later falling asleep as Virgil leaves the room. When she wakes up, she runs after him to compliment the massage, only to realize that Virgil is blind. Virgil asks her out, and the two eventually fall in love and begin a relationship.

Virgil lives alone, though his over-protective sister, Jennie (Kelly McGillis), who lives next door, takes care of him. During an intimate session with Amy, Virgil reveals that he went blind when he was three and that the last thing he saw was something fluffy. Amy describes the horizon to Virgil as something that you "can see but can never reach."

While researching Virgil's condition, Amy learns of Doctor Charles Aaron, a specialist in eye treatment who suggests to Virgil that, with surgery, he could restore his sight. Virgil refuses. To understand Virgil's reaction, Amy seeks out Jennie, who reveals that their father left the family years ago after putting Virgil through several kinds of treatment in an unsuccessful attempt to restore his sight.

After waking up with Amy one morning, Virgil decides he will give the operation a try. It is a success, but after Virgil regains sight for the first time, he becomes confused and disoriented, unable to perceive light and distance. Dr. Aaron suggests that he should visit Phil Webster (Nathan Lane), a visual physiotherapist. Webster in turn suggests that Virgil needs to learn everything from scratch himself, through experience.

Virgil and Amy begin living in New York City, with Virgil finding his feet with his new-found sight. The pair begin drifting apart, as Virgil finds it hard to decipher the look on Amy's face at times. Amy finds herself constantly having to explain basic things to Virgil. While at a party, Virgil sees Amy kiss her ex-husband for his birthday. While trying to leave the party, Virgil walks into a glass pane due to his poor perception.

Virgil's father sees him on television and arranges a reunion; Virgil goes to his father's workplace, but decides at the last minute that he cannot face him yet.

On one of the regular consultation visits with Webster, he brings Virgil to a strip club. They engage in a deep conversation, where Webster notes that instead of just "seeing", Virgil should instead "look"; there are a lot of things that sight alone cannot solve. Virgil confesses that he and Amy are drifting apart, but insists that Amy is the most important thing in his life.

Upon returning from a work trip to Atlanta, where she and her ex-husband shared a sensual moment, Amy decides to save the relationship. She finds Virgil in a park looking for "the horizon" in the city.

Virgil's sight begins deteriorating. He begins experiencing vision blackouts. After consulting with Dr. Aaron, Virgil realizes that he is losing his sight. He decides to look for his father. Virgil reveals to him that he is going blind again, and asks him why he left. His father tells him that he felt he was a failure when he did not find a way to help his son regain sight. Virgil states that he should not have left because his mother and sister suffered greatly after his father walked away.

Virgil looks for Amy, who tells him about her plans to travel with him to places like Egypt and Europe. Withholding the fact that he is again going blind, Virgil tells her there is one thing he really wants to see, and brings her to a "New York Rangers" game.

At the game, Virgil realizes that the "fluffy cloud" he last remembers seeing was cotton candy. As he buys some, he suffers a lengthened vision blackout and admits to Amy that he is going blind, which Amy refuses to accept. Back home, Virgil and Amy argue. He asks if she wants to spend her life with him if he is going to be blind forever. Amy hesitates, and Virgil decides to return home.

Virgil is welcomed by Jennie and eases back into his old way of life. While losing his sight, Virgil spends his remaining time with sight to look at as many things as possible, going through magazines and pictorial books in the library. He stays up to watch the sunset, seeing the horizon for the first and last time.

After he has been blind again for some time, Virgil is at a park with a guide dog. He takes a seat, finishes a sandwich, and tosses the wrapping into a bin. Amy has found him and says, "You missed." Virgil takes a moment then realizes it is Amy. She sits down and they reconnect; then she reveals that she finished a significant sculpture that he broke during their argument. Amy apologizes to Virgil for trying to change him and for moving too fast, which led to their problems together. Virgil puts his hands on Amy's face and touches her tenderly. She asks if he wants to take a walk and "see what they see". They leave the park together.



The film currently holds a "rotten" rating of 32% on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes based on 37 reviews. However, 47% of people (non-critics) give it a positive review. The film and its plot are mentioned in the Friends episode, "The One with Rachel's Big Kiss", the character of Chandler Bing describes it as "a tutti-frutti love story where he (Val Kilmer) played a blind guy".


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