September 19


The Story of Looking (15)

The Story of Looking (15)

Director: Mark Cousins

Runtime: 90 minutes

Cast: Mark Cousins

Synopsis: As he prepares for surgery to restore his vision, Mark Cousins explores the role that visual experience plays in our individual and collective lives. In a deeply personal meditation on the power of looking in his own life, he guides us through the riches of the visible world, a kaleidoscope of extraordinary imagery across cultures and eras. At a time when we are more assailed by images than ever, he reveals how looking makes us who we are, lying at the heart of the human experience, empathy, discovery and thought. He shares the pleasure and pain of seeing the world, in all its complexity and contradiction, with eyes wide open. As the Covid-19 pandemic brings another dramatic shift of perspective, he reaches out to the other lookers for their vision from lockdown, and travels to the future to consider how his looking life will continue to develop until the very end.


Critically-acclaimed writer and filmmaker Mark Cousins is always unprecedented, avant-garde, experimental and inventive in his work. From his landmark epic documentaries: The Story of Film: An Odyssey [(TV Mini Series documentary) (15 episodes) 2011] and Women Make Film: A New Road Movie through Cinema (2018) to smaller-in-scale projects like The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018), A Story of Children and Film (2013)], Cousins’ work always educates, informs and entertains in a personal and original creative form. A new film is always a highly anticipated event.

The Story of Looking is an intimate and innovative exploration of how we experience the world visually – an investigation into the elements of looking, combining art, film, photography, architecture, nature and social media which paints a portrait of our culture, by the Irish-Scottish director, writer, cinephile and critic.

Cousins diligently and empathetically traces the “journey of our visual lives” from cradle (as babies, images are out of focus) to grave, examining selfies, gaping at car crashes, pondering the world around us, and referencing everything from Ray Charles’ attitude to his blindness to Leonardo da Vinci’s theories, and from Cézanne’s idea of “the optical experience that develops within us” to Grease. He also obtains the opinions of his Twitter following, which prompt him to engage in valuable and moving reflections on the nature of viewing.

The Story of Looking is packed with images, both beautiful (Yves Klein IKB, Japanese art, a motorbike ploughing through dirt, a smokestack from a dynamited, disused mine) or more mundane (a troubling image of a man standing on a roof outside his window).

Cinema, of course plays a big part in Cousins’ thinking. His comparison between similar shots of Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca and Autumn Sonata illustrates the role that seeing plays in our ability to remember and engage with the ageing process. He also makes bold use of the eye-slicing from Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. 

As Cousins goes in for cataract surgery the tension is unbearable (especially as a person who had a general anaesthetic for the procedure).

The Story of Looking is a fascinating, engaging and meditative film told in Cousins’ engaging, reflective way, which asks us to consider the difference between looking and seeing.

In cinemas

Images courtesy of Modern Films