The first scene of Take My Eyes seems like it should be its last. In another film about domestic abuse, a woman packing a bag and leaving her violent husband would be the triumphant final moment. But for Pilar (Laia Marull), leaving her husband Antonio (Luis Tosar) with their son is only the beginning of her plight; she’s frazzled and fearful, curled into a tight ball on her bus seat next to her young son, still wearing her slippers. Icíar Bollaín’s Spanish drama shows the gritty, painful realism of Pilar’s suffering, telling her story of domestic abuse with pathos and without moralizing.
The biggest strength of Take My Eyes is the nuance with which it treats both characters. Pilar is never reduced to the helpless victim, nor Antonio the irredeemable abuser. Antonio in particular is given satisfying depth through his group therapy sessions as he attempts to control his anger to no avail. In one such scene, Antonio is tasked with writing about a moment he felt true peace. Antonio is stumped; the tip of his pen never touches the paper.
Antonio’s character development makes Pilar’s inability to resist Antonio understandable and sympathetic. She remains drawn to him, her fear just as powerful as her passion. The first night they spend together after Pilar’s initial escape, she breathlessly promises Antonio her eyes, her nose, her fingers—but it’s a sacrifice of control, not an exchange of love. The intensity of their lovemaking mirrors the explosion of Antonio’s violence. In a final jarring sequence, he strips Pilar naked, locking her outside on their balcony before dragging her back in by the neck. Laia Marull’s physicality as Pilar is laudable, yet torturous to watch—her eyes pop out of her head, her face freezes in a grotesque mask of pure terror.
Pilar’s pain translates into the audience’s desperate desire for what’s best for her. Despite the seemingly hopeless inevitability of Pilar and Antonio’s interactions throughout the film, Bollaín still manages to impart a tenuous strand of hope: that despite the pain of the past, Pilar will finally get a true chance at escape and healing, no matter how painful the journey it took to reach it.