‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic’ Review: Good Intentions Meet Tired Tropes

Petri Poikolainen’s lead performance can’t fix frustrations with plot

"The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic"

It’s interesting to look at the discrepancy between films made about disability in the U.S. versus abroad. For starters, there seems to be a greater interest in telling disabled stories overseas than there is here in the States. But that doesn’t mean that an increase in representation is all positive. In fact, in the case of the Finnish feature, “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic,” the lack of disabled people writing scripts still leads to questionable on-screen antics.

There are certainly good intentions found within Teemu Nikki’s feature. For starters, it’s lead character, Jaako (Petri Poikolainen) is an average guy who just happens to be a wheelchair user and blind. He spends his days checking his social media, playing Keno, and deconstructing films with Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala), a woman he’s met online who also has a disability. The two have never met, but it’s obvious they have a deep affection for each other. Sirpa is often the first person Jaako calls, at the expense of talking to his father, who tends to be overprotective and infantilizing.

Nikki, who also wrote the script, doesn’t do anything new with this specific tale of disability. Jaako has clearly been disabled for several years but spends his life in near total isolation — save for a caregiver he sees purely as an “Annie Wilkes,” a la “Misery” or a “Cuckoo’s Nest”-esque Nurse Ratched. It’s unclear why he hasn’t left home short of he’s in a wheelchair and blind. When he wins a significant amount of money at playing Keno he decides to use that to see an equally depressed and isolated Sirpa.

There’s an immediate love/hate relationship with this movie that disabled people will notice. Too often those with disabilities are portrayed as sad, bitter loners who can only find solace, and romance, with those who are also disabled. That being said, both Poikolainen and Maijala are exceptional in their one-on-one phone calls. The former, himself blind and a wheelchair user, is self-deprecating and relatable, especially when he’s going on a tear about pre-’90s John Carpenter or his eponymous distaste for James Cameron’s “Titanic.” When the movie takes a wild 180 in the second and third acts it’s Poikolainen’s humor that keeps you watching, even if the plot is testing your patience.

It’s not enough that Jaako is the typical isolated disabled man seen so often in this genre of film, but he’s surrounded by a world where people aren’t just ableist, they’re outright cruel. His neighbors give him guff about being able to legally smoke cannabis, declaring that he was clearly a junkie or alcoholic and that’s why he’s disabled. Once Jaako decides to go visit Sirpa, relying on strangers to get him from A to B the film pretty much says, “No wonder Jaako is alone, everyone is terrible.” But, more often than not, it feels more like the film is saying the outside world takes advantage of the disabled. That’s all well and good, but it plays out as “and thus they should stay home.”

And make no mistake, that’d certainly be how I’d look at things because as soon as Jaako makes it to the train he’s targeted by two villains straight out of, to name a film Jaako references, “Fargo.” The pair kidnap him, demanding his money — aren’t those Keno winnings convenient? — because he “gets all the disabled benefits.” There’s a sly bit of commentary here, this misguided belief that the disabled are given state-funded wealth, but there’s no significant investigation of that, and the addition of Jaako’s winnings just leave him in an ironic state of danger because of that.

The film is listed as a comedy on IMDb, with many people noting the humor, and it’s unclear where exactly that is. Jaako has some funny asides on the phone with Sirpa, and he has a rather cheeky speech detailing the issues of the plot: that the minute he left home he ran into trouble. But it’s hard to call these individual moments indicative of the genre of the film. And the third act, involving Jaako being assaulted and then trying to find a way to get out of the situation makes this firmly a drama and, at least to a disabled audience, a cringe-inducing horror feature.

“The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” brings up the continued need for disabled directors and screenwriters. There’s certainly enough charm to spare from the film’s leads, but the storytelling too often relies on disabled people in peril and other tropes that simply regurgitate what we’ve seen.