We always say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but do we have any idea what the meaning is behind that statement? Is it that we can’t use words to convey the complexity of a notion? Or is it that language on its own lacks the necessary means to communicate certain thoughts?
Perhaps our fascination with pictures relates to their ambiguous nature. As Susan Sontag has claimed in her book On Photography from 1977, “a photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence,” so not only are we programmed to feel that we’ve seen this place or that we know that man just by looking at a picture, but we’re also reminded about the never-ending fluidity of life. What once was the center of our being might be a distant memory in the blink of an eye.
And it’s this very fascination that Richard Raymond’s short film A Million Eyes is investigating by depicting the life of Leroy (Elijah M. Cooper), a multicultural teenager who loves taking photos but is scared to follow his dream.
Leroy’s fear goes well beyond the usual angst an artist may feel; it connects to his mother Amber (Katie Lowes) and her battle with alcoholism. Leroy, therefore, is characterized by a dichotomy: he longs to see the world, as the voice-over saying “I wish I had a million eyes,” indicates, but seeing that his father, a soldier, is not present, most likely dead in the line of duty as the shrine built in the living room connotes, Leroy remains within the confines of his house with few exceptions.
Besides that, however, Leroy has to deal with the limitations society puts upon him due to his ancestrial background. He ends up in jail, for instance, just for cutting a few images from a book that he didn’t own.
It’s safe to conclude, therefore, that Leroy lacks a positive parental figure in the beginning of the film. Thus, he has taken on the role of the responsible child, so his curiosity clashes with his sense of duty creating in the process a dilemma that translates into doubt and panic.
Almost as if he heard Leroy’s call for guidance, Fern (Joe Morton) enters the scene, and serves as a catalyst for Leroy’s artistic affinity; he becomes Leroy’s mentor. He embodies the role model that Leroy needs to understand the blueprint left behind by African-American artists and their vision of reality. As director Richard Raymond has stated: “A Million Eyes speaks to the importance of mentors in young children’s lives, especially those discovering their own artistic voices. It shows the significance that arts education can have on kids, especially in underfunded communities, and celebrates the importance of often overlooked voices.”
Overall, Raymond succeeded in providing us with a film that showcases a child’s journey to find his/her “truth” as Fern defines it. A difficult story with a sweet ending, A Million Eyes helps us witness a story that otherwise might have been unfairly ignored.