Have you ever watched a movie, read the reviews and interviews afterwards, and then wondered if you somehow saw a different version of it than everyone else? That’s what happened to me when I watched Dan Stevens in ‘The Ticket’. It’s an independent film that originally premiered at a film festival last year but recently released to a wider audience (including paid viewing online). So I missed what little press and promotion it did get, only becoming aware of it shortly before it’s recent release. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it because the premise seemed so sad. The trailer presented it as a blind man who regains his sight and starts chasing a more superficial lifestyle. He becomes an over-achiever at work, has an extramarital affair, leaves his family, and then eventually regrets it all.
The reviews I had seen regarding the film claimed it was predictable, long and boring… so of course I had to watch it! After finishing the movie, I felt sad because the people who wrote those reviews ended up missing the beautiful story that it tells, both visually and emotionally. It’s true that it wasn’t a happy story but I felt Dan’s character, James, got the short end of the stick in perceptions of him. I did not find him to be an asshole, or exceptionally greedy and selfish, like was described the promotional articles I had read. Instead, I found him to be very human in his reactions. I did not see the wife and best friend as clear cut victims of his arrogance either, taking no blame for the eventual downfall of their connected lives. What follows are my thoughts. There will be spoilers.
The movie begins in darkness, as you hear James and his wife interacting with each other while they prepare for bed. They seem to get along, are friendly and silly with each other, life is good. Except for a sigh from James as he walks outside to get some air before turning in for the night. I could feel his dissatisfaction, even though I couldn’t see it. The next morning James wakes up and realizes he can see.
The doctor says the tumor that had been blocking his vision since young adulthood had unexpectedly shrunk with no rhyme or reason to it. As James tries to re-acclimate as a person of sight, I spot three distinct hurdles for his new life.
Hurdle Number One: his wife, Sam, is not a team player and is used to being in control. she keeps secrets about their son’s well being from James. the son tells his father it’s because she didn’t want to bother James with it.
Hurdle Number Two: Bob, James’ best friend, who works with him as a telemarketer for a real estate company. Bob is also blind and is prideful about it, while also harboring secret affections for James’ wife.
Hurdle Number Three: James’ curiosity about other women. we first see this when the family is on vacation and James asks a woman to dance while visiting the hotel bar alone. it seemed innocent enough, Sam fell asleep and so he wandered down by himself. he sees all the couples dancing, which is how he and Sam first met and something they routinely do as a couple. James and the woman both establish that they are vacationing with their spouses, but he eventually asks her to dance. when they do, it’s a little too close and the whole incident feels very intimate. it was a dick move on James’ part, I’m not going to make excuses for him. the issue escalates with a female work colleague that James finds himself working alongside when he aspires to achieve something more at his job.
James and Sam are not getting along, now that he can see. While I don’t discount the view that James became a little too ambitious, suddenly wanting things that he voiced no desire for before, I don’t think it was a case of his new found sight corrupting him. I think he never strove for more because he simply thought it pointless. There’s a difference between contentment, and just making the most of what you’re given. And while I can sympathize with the wife’s plight of suddenly having her well ordered life turned upside down, they are married. Marriage (to me) means they are partners, not only in parenting their son but in their relationship with one another as well. I feel like Sam expected nothing to change, that she just thought James would relish in the wonder of sight as he went about his same routine. She didn’t expect that he would have talents that he could now utilize at work, that he would want to learn how to drive in order to be more self sufficient, that he would want to make decisions about their son and not have her undermine them behind his back. I think all of this played a part in his growing attraction to his coworker.
James was feeling coddled in his marriage and bitter about the fact that he didn’t realize it had been this way all along. Before they separated, James went to a work function and Sam didn’t come. James was giving his coworker some flirty glances during that party and you could definitely tell that something was building between them, but he didn’t cross that line until he moved out of the house (the timeline here wasn’t clear to me. I don’t know how long it had been after he moved into his own place that he and the coworker started sleeping together, and I don’t know if James and Sam were ever technically divorced during the course of the story). The night of the work function he asked Sam what she originally saw in him. why did she single him out at the dance when they first met? She said he looked miserable and she thought that maybe she could help. His response was that when you ask someone to dance it’s usually because you’re attracted to them, not because you pity them.
When James regained his sight not only did he become conscious of his looks
but Sam suddenly became conscious of hers too. She started wearing dresses, fussing over her hair, wearing jewelry, and jokingly claiming she had to look better now that he could see her. The small, neat life that Sam had created for them was unraveling. As someone who has been married for 20 years, I can sympathize with her loss of control, but I don’t think she was being fair to James. The next night they went out dancing because James had promised that he would but vowed, after her revelation, that it would be the last time. The scene at the dance was heartbreaking. The way they clung to each other on the dance floor, like they knew what was destined to happen and so they were hanging on for one final embrace. Then Sam told him if he leaves, he can’t come back. Neither one of them were making a true effort to fight for their marriage, they both gave up rather quickly. In telling James he can never come back, Sam basically pushed him out the door. and he went so willingly, like it was inevitable so why fight it?
The “novelty”, as his girlfriend later calls it, eventually wears off for James and he starts to lament what he gave up when he walked away. The coworker, while not a bad person, doesn’t really connect with James emotionally. The son doesn’t want to stay at his father’s house anymore and feels like a stranger to him now. Sam has thrown herself into exercising, and goes out dancing a lot. James shows up to one of these dances and sees that she’s dancing with Bob, the friend who tried to sabotage James’ project at work because he didn’t agree with his methods (the ethics of the project were questionable but it’s the way that Bob went behind James’ back to discredit it that was sketchy) James and Sam share a dance in which she assures him that she’s just dancing with Bob, it’s nothing more (even though it looks like it has the potential to be), because she would never take away his only friend. condescending much?
The somewhat predictable climax of the story, is that James loses his sight again. Dan Stevens really shines as he conveys James’ desperation here. From the vulnerable breakdown he has in his bedroom, to the argument with Bob (where Bob says that James had everything Bob had ever wanted and he threw it away), ending with his perilous journey to Sam’s doorstep where she tells him that she can’t take him back. The film ends with James wandering out into the field as the last of his vision completely fades. We see blackness again, and the surrounding sounds of the wilderness become amplified. Footsteps can be heard walking up behind him and then soft “shhh” noises of comfort.
Overall I found the story very moving. It left me contemplating the whys and hows of the dissolution of their marriage. The actions that could have prevented it, the different paths that could have been taken along the way, and also what might have happened afterwards. Through it all though I didn’t see James as the ‘bad’ guy, the selfish man who left his wife and family for bigger and better things. I didn’t see his wife as the ‘good’ guy, the understanding and supportive partner who had been done wrong, and I didn’t see Bob as the loyal friend who had to witness the downfall of his best friend’s second chance. I think they all could have done more, tried harder to understand, and just gave the situation more time.
The look of the film itself, I found pleasing to the eye. The soft hues were comforting (as was the cadence of Dan’s voice throughout), the landscapes familiar, and the structure of the story was just what it needed to be. It needed to be told in that way. We needed time to bond with James, to see the things that were bubbling under the surface in each of his relationships without them being thrust in our faces, fast and loud. I don’t think James regained his sight because he repeated a mantra every night saying how grateful he was, or that his sight was taken away again because he squandered his chance. Others may find spiritual lessons in the film, but I did not. I found human lessons, marriage lessons, identity lessons. Points I will continue to ponder, and hopefully learn from.