Look Into My Eyes: exquisitely made documentary about New York City psychics puts compassion before cynicism

Lana Wilson’s film resists the urge to gawk and expose, giving emotional space to psychic consultations that simultaneously resemble therapy, confession and detective work.

29 January 2024

By Nicolas Rapold

Look Into My Eyes (2024)
Sight and Sound
  • Reviewed from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival

The genius of Lana Wilson’s portrait of New York City psychics is that she doesn’t ask us to believe, but to feel. Exquisitely shot, with consultation sequences mostly showing mediums and their clients head-on, Look Into My Eyes faces people in all their lostness and yearning, sharing in what resembles therapy, confession, and detective work all at once. Wilson, who last directed the Taylor Swift doc Miss Americana (2020), shows psychics in their home lives, and throughout, she finds filmmaking rhythms that illuminate and listen rather than cede to the all-too-easy urge to smirk or gawk. 

Wilson opens with a Wings of Desire-like hover from the city skyline to a building window, setting the tone for connection (and priming us for the immediacy of the film’s approach: we are there). The clients of the psychics arrive needing to know something: what became of a dead patient, what to do at a career crossroads, who were my birth parents, or – in visits with a pet medium – what is my dog trying to tell me? They may find solace, and indeed sometimes pain, in what they come to understand through intuitions, and hints and messages relayed from the beyond. 

It’s the pet psychic – an incredible, unfiltered New York original – who answers what many readers may be wondering: when she first had inklings of a sixth sense, she felt, “even if this is fake, I like it and I need it.” But, again, belief is almost beside the point as Wilson skilfully gives emotional space to the consultations, wherever they go, sometimes shockingly revelatory, other times teetering into dead-ends. The psychics themselves are a diverse selection whose lives feel afflicted with, as much as blessed, by whisker-sensitivity to stress and tragedy (familial abuse, discrimination, romantic despair).  

Proof of clairvoyance isn’t the source of the film’s strength (though certain insights are indeed surprising, and wise). There are lessons to learn from the specific decisions in editing (duration, rhythm, and so on) that maintain the film’s spell, and from the framing, lighting, and composition of the portraiture, not to mention interview technique. Psychics, for example, are approached on an emotional basis, not as authorities giving the low-down on the paranormal. 

Here and there we learn about a medium’s movie preferences: one likes The Witch (2015), another’s mind was blown by John Waters. It’s a neat elaboration on the visions opened by the psychics, and one senses that as an artist, Wilson feels some common cause with their sense of a calling and the communion they make possible. It all gives a new spin to the notion of film as a visual “medium.” 

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