Size / / /
Tropic of the Sea cover

There is an odd feeling that often accompanies watching the early works of famed creators. These works are often immature, lacking the confidence and elegance of their creators' later and more famous efforts. Yet they often also show the signs of future greatness.

I had this feeling while watching Brin Hill's film In Your Eyes, based on a script by Joss Whedon. Released online this April almost immediately following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film appears at first glance to be one of Whedon's artistic low-budget indulgences, such as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) or Much Ado About Nothing (2012), which he allows himself between his big- and small-screen Marvelverse projects. What makes In Your Eyes different, however, is the fact that it was originally written in 1992, one of Whedon's first original scripts. And even though it has reportedly gone through many drafts before its production and release this year, the film still feels like the early work of a screenwriter making his first hesitant moves.

The film follows two protagonists. Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) is a young New Hampshire rich girl with a deeply traumatic past caught in a loveless marriage to an ambitious doctor (Mark Feuerstein), and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is a New Mexico ex-con on parole, stuck in a dead-end job, alienated by his family and tempted by the possibility of returning to life of crime. Early in the film, Rebecca and Dylan discover that they share a mental connection, allowing them to see things through each other's eyes and hear each other's speech. With each of them finding a soul mate in the other, they begin falling for each other while pushing away their close friends and relatives.

Whedon has managed to build himself a fanbase that's big and loyal enough to watch pretty much anything that has his name on it—indeed, one criticism often leveled toward his recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series is that people wouldn't have stayed with the show if it didn't have his name in the credits. I suspect the same is true for In Your Eyes: if it wasn't for Whedon's involvement, no one would have given the film a second look. The film's flaws are painfully obvious: structurally, it builds up quickly and unconvincingly, as the protagonists discover their mental connection and get comfortable with it really fast, and it then struggles to maintain dramatic tension by making its characters deliberately stupid (surely, they have noticed that people give them weird looks when they appear to be talking to themselves. How hard can it be to keep discreet about something like this?). Another big problem is the general feeling of anachronism that accompanies the film: when the script was originally written, the idea of two people having a long-distance intimate relationship must have been pretty radical. Today we have cell phones (briefly mentioned but never seen in the film) and the Internet (which simply doesn't exist).

But even if the script has problems coming together, its individual scenes show Whedon's talent for writing captivating characters and memorable dialogue. The romance that slowly develops between Rebecca and Dylan maneuvers between charming comic scenes (my favorite being a scene that recalls Whedon's early background in sitcoms where Rebecca tries playing Cyrano de Bergerac for Dylan while he is on a date) and more intimate scenes where they learn about each other from within, mentally and physically. The handling of the relationship between the two characters is sometimes overly sentimental, but done with enough sensitivity to win me over. And though I have no way of knowing just how many changes the characters went through in the script's different drafts over the years, the two protagonists sometimes felt like prototypes for Whedon's later, beloved characters: Rebecca, in particular feels like an early version of Buffy's Willow or Angel's Fred—an introverted, insecure woman who slowly gains confidence and strength.

From a visual standpoint, In Your Eyes is a significant departure from Whedon's other low-budget productions. While both Dr. Horrible and Much Ado about Nothing emphasized their improvised settings, in In Your Eyes director Hill makes a surprisingly elegant use of the limited sets with handsome panoramic shots of both the California desert and the rainy New Hampshire scenery. There are some nice nuances to the shift in color palette between the two locations that serve as an appropriate metaphor for the mental and physical distance between Rebecca and Dylan. However, while they give pleasant enough performances, neither Kazan nor Stahl-David are in the league of Whedon's regular cast members such as Nathan Fillion or Amy Acker.

People who know nothing about Whedon and his work will probably dismiss In Your Eyes as a harmless but forgettable romantic drama. Those familiar with Whedon, and especially his hardcore fans, are unlikely to include it among his greatest works. But it's nonetheless more representative of what makes his acclaimed works great than any of his recent big- or small-budget projects.

When he's not working on his PhD researching animation as a text, Raz Greenberg works as a content editor for an Internet company, and spends his time writing reviews, articles, and stories. His articles have appeared in Strange Horizons, Animated Views, RevolutionSF, and Salon Futura; his fiction has appeared in FutureQuake, Murky Depths, and Ray Gun Revival, and in several Hebrew genre magazines in his home country of Israel. In 2010, a short story by him was nominated for the Geffen Award, given by the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Raz Greenberg divides his time between working as a content editor, lecturing on comics and animation in several academic institutes, writing reviews and articles for a variety of publications (Strange Horizons, Tablet Magazine, and All the Anime, among others), and writing fiction. He muses about overlooked genre classics at the Space Oddities Facebook page.
Current Issue
26 Jul 2021

mice not mouses, lice not louses
By: Mary Soon Lee
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Mary Soon Lee
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Mary Soon Lee's “What Cacti Read” with a reading by the poet.
"I dare to say that the overwhelming majority of artists I commission come from hashtag art events, so I highly recommend artists to participate in those—we and other art directors are certainly looking!"
I believe Art Daily went and stole the extremely dangerous thing and is now going to Philadelphia, as one does, when one has stolen an extremely dangerous thing.
Issue 19 Jul 2021
By: Ian Rosales Casocot
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
By: Nora Claire Miller
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Nora Claire Miller
Issue 12 Jul 2021
By: Dante Novario
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Dante Novario
Issue 5 Jul 2021
By: Anna Martino
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
Issue 28 Jun 2021
Issue 21 Jun 2021
By: Blaze Forbes
Podcast read by: Courtney Floyd
By: Palimrya
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Palimrya
Issue 14 Jun 2021
By: Liza Wemakor
Podcast read by: Courtney Floyd
Issue 7 Jun 2021
By: Maria Zoccola
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Wednesday: Sweet Home 
Issue 31 May 2021
By: Jenny Fried
Art by: Sunmi
By: Jenny Fried
Podcast read by: Courtney Floyd
By: Paris Green
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
By: Dante Luiz
Art by: Sunmi
By: Amari Low
By: Lu Christófaro
By: Beasa A. Dukes
By: Avi Silver
By: Emmanuel Ojeikhodion
By: Brooke Abbey
By: Alexander Te Pohe
By: M. Darusha Wehm
By: Elliott Dunstan
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Amari Low
Podcast read by: Lu Christófaro
Podcast read by: Beasa A. Dukes
Podcast read by: Avi Silver
Podcast read by: Emmanuel Ojeikhodion
Podcast: A Welling Up 
By: Natalia Theodoridou
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
Issue 24 May 2021
By: David Simmons
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: David Simmons
Issue 17 May 2021
Strange Horizons
Strange Horizons
By: Shilpa Kamat
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Shilpa Kamat
By: Fargo Tbakhi
Podcast read by: Fargo Tbakhi
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
Load More
%d bloggers like this: