Blindness (2008) / Sci Fi-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence including sexual assaults, language, sexuality and nudity
Running time: 120 min.
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal, Yusuke Iseya, Danny Glover, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar, Maury Chaykin, Mitchell Nye, Sandra Oh
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay: Don McKellar (based on the novel, "Ensaio Sobre e Ceguiera," by Jose Saramago
Review published February 15, 2009
Acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener, City of God) takes on the heady screenplay by screenwriter and supporting player Don McKellar (Childstar, The Red Violin), loosely adapting the 1995 Portuguese novel, "Ensaio Sobre e Ceguira," (literally, "Essay on Blindness") by Nobel Laureate author Jose Saramago. What was originally a commentary on the moral decay of the global society through the eyes of the last woman with sight in the world has become an intriguing and highly sensational thriller, dabbling in science fiction and horror elements, that ultimately never settles in as to what it's all about.
Julianne Moore (Next, Children of Men) stars as a sighted woman who pretends she is blind when her ophthalmologist husband (Ruffalo, Rumor Has It) is stricken with what might be a virus going around that causes the infected to be blinded, seeing nothing but white. The governing authorities has mandated all afflicted be quarantined in designated holding facilities indefinitely. More and more newly blind patients pour into the facility, which is now suffering from overcrowding, malnourishment, and serious injuries that receive no medical attention, as the inhabitants are not allowed off the premises and no uninfected are allowed on. To keep the needs of individuals attended to, the inhabitants are broken up into wings of the facility with a designated leader. However, while this act is meant to strengthen communication, it also leads to escalating factions competing for the rations given to the facility, soon becoming a survival-of-the-fittest turf war after anarchy ensues.
I suppose that, given the talent of all involved, that the story isn't meant to be taken strictly at face value. Underneath all of the nonsensical hullabaloo, there is a commentary that can be read regarding the state of the world today, as the human race has lost its way and ended up making one heck of a mess of things. Disregard for one another, demoralization, squandering resources, and warring tribes are all in the mix, as civilization is taken out of the equation. It's yet another spin off of the "Lord of the Flies" parable, whereby seemingly benign people are turned into murderers, rapists, and thieves when put into situations where their actions go unchecked. The only difference in Blindness is that most of the characters are blind, perhaps a metaphor for no longer lacking any sort of vision. The person with vision becomes the caretaker of the group, and the leader, though reluctantly, much like those with the figurative vision in society do.
While I found it interesting to form my own rationale as to what the film is about, by the same token, I often am reluctant to actually recommend films that don't work on fundamental narrative terms without having to read personal philosophical theories into them. If one were to take Blindness as a story, there isn't much one can find personal identification with. The set-up is certainly an attention grabber, with people going blind and the quarantine process. However, there's no story angle at all with the disease, and no explanation. The adversities of living in the holding facilities consists of an escalation of horrible living conditions that leads to rape, murder, and abhorrent cruelty. Meirelles doesn't sugar coat it, but he also languishes in their depiction to the point where it became too depressing to watch without some sort of narrative payoff. There is a payoff of sorts, culminating in a key murder and suicide that will have many cheering internally, but, in my personal opinion, Meirelles will likely break the spirit of many viewers by delivering too much anguish and ugly turmoil before things get resolved.
Filled with quality actors who valiantly try to make such outlandish situations and farfetched plot pivots work, it ends up being a mostly futile effort, as characters seem often to be too cartoonish to take as real people. From Maury Chaykin's (It's a Boy Girl Thing) blind accountant to Alice Braga's (I Am Legend) dark sunglasses-wearing prostitute to Danny Glover's (Be Kind Rewind) eye-patch sporting old guy, there are archetypes and stereotypes that abound. Julianne Moore delivers a quality performance as the meek woman who finds inner strength in being the mother figure to so many helpless people. Mark Ruffalo is a fine no-nonsense actor that delivers well in a role that is sometimes unsympathetic in his human weaknesses.
As a film, Blindness isn't without vision, but plays as if it lacks focus. There are many fine elements to the story, sufficient to think that they might develop into a quality film, and yet the story feels like three chapters that don't quite jibe thematically with one another. There also is an odd feel to the make-up of the city itself, nondescript, with an intentional microcosm of different nationalities, races, genders and accents (It is claimed that author Saramago had the producers agree the story not be set in any recognizable city and without named characters, like the novel). None of the characters are called by real names, neither in the film nor in the script, for reasons that one can only speculate about, further distancing these characters and their plights by being impersonal. Moore's performance and Meirelles skilful vision nearly coalesce the motley elements into a workable allegory of the fragility of our society, but excessively lurid elements thwart the balance, and what we have left is a sporadically brilliant film that doesn't deliver enough heady resonance to make the seedy slog through utter human depravity rewarding.
©2009 Vince Leo