Eye of the Beholder (1999)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Stephan Elliott
  • Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, Patrick Bergin


British Consulate investigator Det. Stephen Wilson, a.k.a. the Eye, comes across a disturbed lady serial-killer while on an otherwise mundane assignment. Already a bit psychologically fragile from his wife’s abrupt removal of herself and their daughter from his life (with the lingering memory of his daughter haunting him like a manifest ghost), his psychosis as a displaced dad dovetails with the femme fatale’s psychosis as an abandoned daughter (crying “Merry Christmas, Daddy” over her expired victims). A bond forms, or, rather, an obsession, as the Eye abandons his job to secretively stalk this mysterious woman full-time as she visits many major U.S. cities under various names, leaving numerous victims.

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  • Imagine you are Eye (Ewan McGregor), a man with no name or identity, bereft of his wife and daughter, an agent for the British intelligence. Imagine that you are so haunted by your daughter’s absence that you will a simulated reality of her – she is so real that you can converse with her, be distracted by her, have your already guilty conscience exacerbated by her tauntings. You want to be affected, you are affected but detachment is your trade and no matter how human you want to be, detached you must remain.

    Then she comes along. Her name, you’ll later learn, is Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd). You will learn that she is still affected by a certain childhood Christmas when she was abandoned by her father. You will witness her kill the son of a British official – you will watch as she stabs him repeatedly, as she drags his body and dumps it in a lake, as she stands naked and lets the rain wash away the blood on her skin.

    You will follow her and protect her. Because your own lost daughter tells you to: “Don’t leave her, Daddy. She’s just a little girl. Don’t leave her alone.” So you don’t – you forsake your own assignment to follow her as she hops from state to state, leaving more victims in her wake until she meets Alex Leonard (Patrick Bergin), a wealthy blind man who offers her love and security. When she proposes to him, Alex asks, “Why me?” “Because you can’t see who I really am,” you hear her reply.

    Yet you see who she is and know who she is. You believe yourself to be her guardian angel. It is you whom she must love, you whom she must know will protect her from all who may be a threat to her safety. Slowly, slowly you begin to make contact.

    Eye of the Beholder, adapted from Marc Behm’s novel by director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), is a contrived misfire for all involved. Characters strike their noir poses and Judd, her mouth set in a hard pout, appears to be using this vehicle as her audition tape for the Basic Instinct sequel. Somehow Joanna manages to change costumes with every corner she turns. McGregor contrasts Judd’s fierce glamour with his everyman malleability and touches in the scene where Eye and Joanna exchange stories of loss in an Alaskan diner. Unfortunately, his plaint is undone by the cliched dialogue: “I guess I’m just a daddy who’s lost his little girl, and you’re just a little girl who’s lost her daddy.”

    Bergin makes the most of his limited character. Jason Priestley, as a sleazy bleached blond junkie, and k.d. lang, as Eye’s contact, do not emerge as unscathed. Genevieve Bujold camps it up hotly (and perhaps unintentionally) as Dr. Brault, Joanna’s role model right down to her penchant for wigs and cognac. Director Elliott shows off by making awkward transitions – cityscapes mingling in and out of snowglobes, scenes going from video to film – and attempting witty, hardboiled dialogue. These only serve to further emphasize the film’s rickety execution.

    Pity. There is intrigue to be found in the connection between Eye and Joanna. Is he in love with her as a man loves a woman or as a father who loves a daughter? Or, as a father who would like to love his daughter as a woman? Kinks, Oedipal and otherwise, thrive in noirs, are welcomed by the genre. Yet Elliott chooses to make a common copy of a copy of a noir. It isn’t even bad enough to be fun.

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