There’s a genuinely moving scene at the beginning of the new documentary by Lana Wilson (After Tiller, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields) revolving around a group of New York City-based psychics and their clients. A female doctor tells a psychic that she once attended to a 10-year-old girl who had been shot and killed 20 years earlier. The doctor, who’s no doubt seen her share of tragedies in the intervening years, is clearly still traumatized by the incident. She has one question for the psychic: “How is she?” she asks, her voice trembling.
We see the psychic’s response at the end of the film, in a moment that is no less affecting. Unfortunately, much of what occurs in between lacks the potency of those segments, coming across more like a tabloid-style reality television show. Receiving its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Look Into My Eyes will likely make you think twice before ducking into that storefront psychic parlor.
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It’s hard not to shake your head at the absurdity on display during some of the readings. An older woman seeks the help of a psychic to help her gain insight into the thinking of her Boston Terrier, who hates to be walked on a leash.
The psychic, presumably stifling her laughter, says, “I’m going to ask her why she’s so defiant.” Furrowing her brow, she apparently taps into the dog’s mind and informs the client, “Dottie says there’s a lot of anxiety to it. It’s like a war.”
“She loves me, right?” the insecure owner asks.
In another segment, a young man desperately wants to know the thoughts of a lizard he had given away, named Bobby Jr. “Is he happy there?” he asks a psychic, who handles the query with aplomb. “They don’t have the same emotional connection that the two of you had,” she informs the man about the lizard and his new owner, assuring him that the former is nonetheless doing fine. (Apparently, humans using psychics to better understand their animals is more of a thing than one would have thought.)
Even the more serious encounters have a bizarre absurdist quality. A young Asian-American psychic is startled to discover that his new client is a woman with whom he went to high school. “Holy shit!” he exclaims when she reminds him of their shared past, which might make you doubt his psychic powers. “Am I allowed to say that on camera?” he asks the offscreen filmmaker.
The client wants to know the feelings of a young man who killed himself, another classmate of both of theirs. The psychic asks if a breathing issue led to the man’s death. She seems puzzled by the question, finally revealing that the man had hung himself. “Well, that would be a breathing issue, for sure,” the psychic responds, with the deadpan delivery of a Borscht Belt comedian.
The documentary focuses on seven psychics, all of them relatively young and, strangely enough, involved in the arts in some form. (Sure, every waiter in New York is a struggling actor, but psychics too?) To say that they’re all eccentric in one way or another is an understatement. One of them says that he started experiencing paranormal phenomena and googled “psychic classes” to hone his skills. Another, who describes himself as a part-time screenwriter, clearly has a hoarding problem. He’s also an aspiring singer, seen performing Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” at an open-mic night.
A wild-haired female psychic, who does readings at parties, informs us that she has written and performed a one-woman show called Ode to My Love Life. Another, also an aspiring actress, describes her obsession with the movies of John Waters. Waters himself would admire the silliness of the scene in which she deals with a client who informs her, “Birds are constantly falling in front of me.”
“They’re attracted to your energy,” the psychic assures her.
The film’s title would seem to promise a certain level of spookiness, but the prosaic encounters on display in Look Into My Eyes feel silly more often than not. The psychics seem sincere in their belief in their abilities and desire to help their clients, but they don’t exactly inspire confidence that they’re doing anything more than gentle hand-holding of people struggling with issues both large and small. This is a documentary about psychics that make you think Ouija boards might be a better investment.
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