Hysterical Blindness (2002)

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Released 7-Jan-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Mira Nair (Director)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Interviews - Cast And Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 98:41 (Case: 95)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mira Nair

Warner Home Video
Starring Uma Thurman
Gena Rowlands
Juliette Lewis
Justin Chambers
Ben Gazzara
Anthony Joseph De Santis
Jolie Peters
Callie Thorne
Jeff Aaron
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Lesley Barber

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, lots
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Hysterical Blindness is a made for television (HBO) movie that belies its humble beginnings. With an impressive cast including Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis and Gena Rowlands, expectations should be quite high for this flick. The performances of the female leads does not disappoint, with all three turning in solid work - Thurman and Lewis both come across with utter credibility as a couple of working class girls, desperate to find love in the bars of New Jersey during the 1980s. The story is small, however, and the film has a simple tale to tell - the desperate need to find a lasting love.

    The name of the film comes from the psychosomatic condition, brought on by stress, in which the sufferer is temporarily unable to see properly. Debby (Thurman) briefly suffers from this condition at the start of the film, but in reality it is a metaphor for her inability to see the cyclic futility of her lifestyle. Her best friend Beth (Lewis) is sympathetic to her condition, but is more interested in getting to their regular nightly haunt - Ollie's Bar. Here the two ladies, dressed in the tightest acid-wash denim and most pristine white spandex, use every ounce of feminine charm to attract a mate.

    Beth is a high school drop-out, courtesy of a very early pregnancy and Debby is a fast-fading beauty with a short temper and a terribly petulant streak. Their lack of sophistication, choice of clothing and of watering hole mean that they are unlikely to ever find what they are looking for. They want an escape from their solitary, impoverished lives and see a relationship with a man as the only way to achieve that. Unfortunately, the "hysterical blindness" means that they are destined to repeat the mistakes of their own history forever. There is also a strong, and touching, sub-plot within the movie as Debby's waitress mother finds a new love of her own, in the shape of Nick (Ben Gazzara), which gives Gena Rowlands a chance to shine in her motherly role.

    Touted by the director (Mina Nair - Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala) as a dark comedy, Hysterical Blindness starts out as a mildly funny film but soon becomes much more dour when the viewer realises that Debby and Beth seem doomed to spend the rest of their lives desperately lonely and looking for love in all the wrong places. The film becomes a little depressing as you understand that they are unlikely to escape the cycle of one night stands and seem destined to spend the remainder of their years as bar-flys, staggering from one superficial relationship to another. Whilst it is not a happy tale, it is well realised with some excellent set design and costume work, coupled with top notch performances from the three female leads. I have never lived in the USA, but did in fact visit New Jersey for a few weeks in 1986 - and this looks exactly as I remember it. My instinct tells me that this is more likely to appeal to a female audience as it focuses very much on the plight of women - the motivations and emotions of men are barely touched on in the film. Whilst the film is accomplished, I didn't personally find it terribly entertaining. Recommended as a possible rental for humans of the female persuasion.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality of this transfer is acceptable for a television movie, but is by no means of reference standard.

    Based on a stage play, the entire film was shot with hand-held cameras. Perhaps because of this there are a few shots where the focus and framing is briefly a little suspect. It does, however, lend more of an intimate semi-documentary feel to the picture. Sharpness overall is a little lacking, with quite a soft feel to many of the scenes, verging on loss of focus. The film is presented 16x9 enhanced in a ratio of 1.78:1, which is the original aspect ratio.

    Black levels are acceptably deep with no low level noise evident. Shadow detail is generally good which is useful as many scenes are shot in subdued light. Colours are a little undersaturated, with some of the outdoor shots particularly limited in their range. This is, however, appropriate to the landscape which is being portrayed, and fits the mood of the piece well. There is no sign of colour bleeding.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts present. There is some very occasional edge enhancement present (for example around the bridge at 36:03) but it is rare and minimal. Aliasing was not an issue on my system.

    The transfer is generally unaffected by film (video) artefacts and is a rather clean transfer overall.

    The English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are well timed and legible. They follow the dialogue closely and provide appropriate musical cues and dialogue attribution.

    The disc is in a single sided and single layered DVD 5 format so there is no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The overall audio transfer is acceptable but hardly stunning.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is encoded at 384 kbps. It is free from major defects with no clicks, pops or hiss noted. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is encoded at 192 kbps and is also perfectly adequate. I listened to the former in full and sampled the latter. Dialogue was clear, although the accents are quite strong and I felt the overall level was a touch low, so turning the volume up a tad may be advisable. Audio sync was fine.

    The film features a number of contemporary pop songs from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Pretenders and Cyndi Lauper. These help to anchor the action firmly in the 1980s (the movie is set in 1987). Original music is credited to Lesley Barber (Mansfield Park, The Little Bear Movie) and it does a satisfactory job without being particularly memorable. Overall the music is there to evoke a period feel, which it does admirably whilst never overshadowing the all-important dialogue.

    The soundstage is predominantly frontal. The front speakers transmit the dialogue well, but there is not much evidence of separation across the front soundstage. The surround speakers are used to provide some background ambience in the bar scenes and carry some musical activity. Interestingly, if you have Pro Logic II enabled, the surround speakers have a more significant level of activity than listening to the 5.1 mix - particularly for the musical numbers. There is little in the way of localised sound effects or front to rear panning.

    The subwoofer doesn't really draw attention to itself, although it does offer support for the music bass beats. There is little evidence of - nor need for - a significant LFE presence in this character-driven piece.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are a few extras present, which is somewhat surprising given that this is a made for television feature.


    The main menu is a silent photograph of the female leads allowing the options of playing the feature, selecting one of fourteen chapter stops, selecting audio tracks and activating subtitles or playing the following extras:

Audio Commentary

    Director Mina Nair provides an insightful and interesting commentary. It is well paced and really rather informative. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 192 kbps.

Cast and Crew Bios

    Silent, text-based screens which are reasonably detailed. They cover Thurman, Lewis, Rowlands, Gazarra, Mira Nair and writer Laura Cahill.

Cast and Crew Interviews

    Strangely presented as a series of silent, text-based screens, these interviews feature Thurman, Lewis, Mina Nair and Laura Cahill. Whilst filmed interviews would have been preferred, these are at least quite extensive and worth a read for fans of the film.


    A fairly pointless and meagre selection of eight small photographs of the female stars.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release appears identical to our own. Buy whichever is cheaper.


    Hysterical Blindness is a small story, well realised by the excellent cast. Whilst the relationship between the tragic Debby and Beth is initially humorous, the story becomes rather more saddening when you realise that "this is it" for their lives. It is unlikely that either woman will find the lasting love which they seek, and they are destined to spend their lives trapped in the backwater of Bayonne, New Jersey. There is no Pretty Woman happy ending in sight here. Recommended as a rental for those who fondly remember back-combed Bonnie Tyler style hair and white handbags, and who are in the mood for a melancholy experience. The contemporary music and costumes may bring back a few memories - coupled with a few winces perhaps?

    The video quality is reasonable.

    The audio transfer is reasonable.

    The extras are bargain basement, except for the top shelf commentary by Mina Nair.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Saturday, February 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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