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At First Sight is a 1999 American film starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, based on the essay To See and Not to See in neurologist Oliver Sacks' book An Anthropologist on Mars.


Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) takes a break from her work as an architect at a spa in Pinecrest, a small town outside of New York. Virgil Anderson (Val Kilmer) is a masseur at the spa and gives Amy a massage. During the massage, Amy breaks down and cries and later falls asleep as Virgil leaves the room. When she woke up, she ran after Virgil to compliment the massage, only then realizing that Virgil is in fact blind. They hit it off nonetheless, with Virgil asking her out for a date.

Virgil lives alone, though he is taken care of by his over-protective sister, Jennie (Kelly McGillis), who lives next door. He is also shown to have a keen interest in the New York Rangers NHL team, which he follows by listening to their games on TV or radio.

During an intimate session with Amy, Virgil revealed that he went totally blind when he was three and that the last thing he ever remembered seeing was something fluffy. Amy then tried to describe the horizon to Virgil as something that you "can see but can never reach".

When researching, Amy comes across Dr. Charles Aaron, a specialist in eye treatment who suggests to Virgil that, with surgery, he could make the blind man see.

At first, Virgil refuses, and is even offended. 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 to help him regain sight. This obviously left Virgil with a deep emotional scar.

After waking up with Amy one morning, Virgil decided that he would move to New York and give the operation a try. It was a success, but after Virgil regained sight for the first time, he became confused and disoriented, not having any perception of light and distance. Dr Aaron suggests that he should visit Phil Webster (Nathan Lane), a visual physiotherapist, for help.

Phil was unconventional and suggests to Virgil that he needs to learn everything from scratch himself, through experience. He also noted that he is "mentally blind".

Thus, Virgil and Amy begin a new life in New York City, with Amy back to work as an architect, and Virgil slowly finding his feet in his new life with his new-found sight. Emotionally, the pair began to drift away somewhat, as Virgil finds it hard to decipher the look on Amy's face at times. Amy, in return, finds herself constantly having to explain the most basic of things to Virgil, including why people eat lobsters when it comes in shells. The relationship hit a new low, when at a party, Virgil saw Amy kiss her ex-husband (and current workmate) on the lips as a birthday kiss. While trying to make a quick exit from the party, Virgil walked into a glass plane, and hurt his head, because of poor perception, in the process.

In the meantime, Virgil's father saw him on television and arranged a reunion; Virgil went all the way to his dad's workplace, but decided at the last minute that he cannot face him yet.

On one of the regular consultation visits to Phil, he brought Virgil to a local strip club. They engaged in a deep conversation, where Phil noted that instead of just "seeing", Virgil should instead "look" and that there are a lot of things that sight alone cannot solve. Virgil confessed that he and Amy are drifting away, 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 decided to do her bit to save the relationship. She found Virgil out in the park looking for "the horizon" in the city.

At this time, Virgil's sight began to deteriorate. He begins to experience occasional blackouts. After consultation with Dr Aaron, he realized that he is slowly losing his sight again. He then decides to look for his father. He revealed to him that he is once more going blind, and asked him why he left the family. His father told him that he felt that he was a failure when he did not manage to find a method to help his son regain sight and thus decided to leave. Virgil then retorted and said that he should never have left because his mum and his sister suffered greatly after his father turned his back and walked away.

Thereafter, he went to look for Amy, who excitedly told him about her plans to travel with him to places like Egypt and Europe. Still withholding the fact that he is turning blind, Virgil told her that there is one thing that he really wants to see, and brought her to watch a NY Rangers game.

At the game, Virgil saw a vendor selling candy floss and realized that the fluffy stuff that he last remembered seeing was pink cotton candy. As he bought some, he suffered from a lengthened vision blackout and admitted to Amy that he has seen Dr Aaron and that he is indeed going blind. Back home, Virgil decided to pack up and go home as he entered into an argument with Amy. He then bumped into a sculpture, which Amy had been trying to do for years but could not finish, smashing it to pieces. He asked her if she had ever wanted to spend her life with him if she knew that he was going to be blind forever. Amy hesitated, and Virgil said that that was the answer he needed, and left to go back home.

Virgil was welcomed by Kelly and he slowly eased into his old way of life. While Kelly was explaining that she had left things the way they were since Virgil left, he told her that Pinecrest had been a great place to grow up, but he has now grown up. He went on to thank Kelly for sacrificing her life to take care of him and that he and the two share an embrace.

While rapidly losing sight, Virgil decided to spend his remaining time with sight to look at as many things as possible, going through archived magazines and pictorial books in the local library. In an iconic scene, he stayed up all night in front of his house, looking at the sunset and seeing the horizon for the first (and last) time in his life.

The scene then cuts to Virgil giving a speech at a medical convention about his gain and subsequent loss of sight. He told about how sight had helped him, and that growing up, he only had two dreams - to see again and to play for the NY Rangers. He insists that if he were to choose again, he would choose the latter. He also added a philosophical take on sight, saying that people don't need eyes to look at what is genuine about themselves and others.

Later on, Virgil is seen at a park with a guide dog. He takes a seat, finishes a sandwich, and tosses the wrapping into a bin. Sensing a human presence, he asked if he missed, to which a lady voice replied, "by a mile". He recognizes Amy instantly when she revealed that she had finally managed to finish the long-neglected sculpture that he broke. This was based on a true story of a couple with the same concerns. 
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CastNathan Lane, Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Ken Howard, Bruce Davison, Steven Weber, Irwin Winkler
DirectorIrwin Winkler
Genre:  Drama
Release Date:  January 15, 1999
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Runtime:  2hrs 8min
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More At First Sight reviews
review by . January 31, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Val Kilmer is excellent as Virgil, a sightless man who is given a gift. Virgil has a retina disease which had been previously diagnosed as incurable. He goes with his girlfriend Amy (Mira Sorvino) to see an eye specialist who tells Virgil that medicine has made great strides in the last 25 years and he may be able to give Virgil sight.    Virgil agrees to give the proposed procedure a try. When the bandages are removed after the procedure, the audience doesn't know what to expect. …
review by . April 18, 2000
Pros: Good idea, decent acting     Cons: Little unbelievable     This movie starring Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis, Nathan Lane and Steven Weber is based on a true story. Kilmer plays the part of Virgil Adamson, a blind masseuse that meets up with Sorvino (Amy) a New York architect. Amy is over worked and under stress, meeting hectic deadlines, working with her ex-husband, Steven Weber. She needs a little relief, a little love, a little break.   …
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