Art and science shack up in the extraordinary documentary “Ocularist”. Fredric Harwin is a Board Certified Ocularist, maker of custom acrylic eyes so realistic it’s scary. His is an unusual profession, one that bridges the impossible gap between medicine and artistry. Clearly, Mr. Harwin has found his calling. He brings not only a true passion to his work, but also a profound compassion for his patients not often found in modern medicine. The cruel irony here of course, is that the brilliantly realistic eyes Mr. Harwin so painstakingly crafts will never take the place of real eyes. They will never see. What Harwin does create, however, is the illusion of sight and for that his patients are most grateful. Most of these patients were victims of freak accidents who just want to “feel whole again”. With their new, false eyes, they can reenter society without feeling as self-conscious about their handicap. The film focuses on a very typical patient (Andy Jackman) and the process by which he is given “sight”.
As directed, edited, and photographed by Vance Malone, “Ocularist” is a wholly engrossing and original short film. His dexterous use of both style and substance to mirror the paradoxical nature of Harwin’s work is simply inspired. Through the mastery of his craft, Malone, like Harwin, creates the illusion of sight through a subtly dazzling display of optics. In only nine minutes, the film deftly mimics altered vision with an array of negative images, unfocused lenses, blinking effects, overexposure, and wandering movements. Yet this MTV-inspired, visual excess is not without its brains. The film sheds much needed light on this truly fascinating, though virtually unknown, profession. I was particularly struck by the details of the creation process, such as the mold making of the socket and the “painting” of the iris. My only complaint would be that the film skims too quickly over these details, offering only tantalizing glimpses and not enough science. At the end of its brief running time, I found myself fully engaged in this material and wanted more. Still, it’s hard to complain after such an… eye-opening experience (okay, that’s enough).