When a blindness epidemic infects an entire city, it is up to the one woman who is immune to the epidemic and her husband to help a small group of individuals survive.
Blindness is a hard movie to like. It is slow moving, almost plodding at times. It is a disturbing movie that delves into the darkness of humankind in the face of heightened fear and distress. It reminds me of the comic book series The Walking Dead where a zombie outbreak forces survivors to band together only to find true evil rests in their own souls. In Blindness, adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, an unnamed city is struck with an unexplained epidemic of blindness.
At first only select few experiences the trauma – a man blinded while driving his car, a petty thief, a drug store clerk, an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and a number of his patients. The infected soon grow to a large number and the government, for the protection of the people, quarantines the infected in an asylum. The infected are treated without care on concern for their wellbeing, armed guards set up to shoot to kill anyone who ventures outside the restricted areas. Food is rationed to a level well below the number of the infected. The lack of concern and cruelty shown by the government is horrifying. It is similar to a concentration camp.
Almost as bad are the factions that break off in the asylum itself. Wards are split up, our heroes settling into Ward One. The trouble comes from Ward Three, which is led by an arrogant man (Gael Garcia Bernal) who steals food and forces all other inmates to give up their valuables and finally forces sexual favors for the privilege of food. This culminates in a horrible murder/rape of one of the women that pushes the other inmates to finally stand up for themselves. The outside world is just as splintered. While at a medical convention, one of the doctors turns out to be infected and soon everyone who gives the world a semblance of hope finds they are blind as well. When the Secretary of Health (Sandra Oh) announces she is also blind, society crumbles.
The twist is there is still one person who still has sight. The doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore) pretends to be blind so she will not be separated from her husband and finds herself the only hope of the infected to find their way to safety. While I like Moore in some roles, I find her grating in others. She appears in the wonderful Magnolia and find her to be the most annoying character in a film of great ones. She always seems to be overacting and it is not different here. She is backed by Ruffalo, who comes across as bland and lifeless as the blindly ignorant leader of the First Ward. With these two characters as the people we are asked to follow, the movie stumbles badly along the way.
This is a shame because the idea is magnificent. When I went into the movie, I expected something along the lines of Children of Men, a parable of the world when everything we know falls apart. I was greatly disappointed. Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian auteur who directed the wonderful City of God in 2002, came into this movie with great aspirations. On a technical level he crafted a brilliantly constructed picture. With the idea that you see the movie from the point of view of your lead characters, he paints a picture of dizzying effect. Scenes are washed out, distorted and blurred. At times an object that was not there appears instantly when a character stumbles upon it. It is reminiscent of the work Christopher Nolan attempted on Insomnia, trying to show you how the world must appear to those who cannot see. In that aspect, Meirelles was successful.
Unfortuantely, the pace and plotting of the film is fractured and disjointed. It seems like a series of events instead of a structured plotline to follow. The characters are stereotypes instead of carefully constructed individuals. Danny Glover is the wise man. There is a whore. There is a young boy signifying innocence. You don’t care about any of these characters. Neither Moore nor Ruffalo deliver the star power and you find no one in the movie that you actually care lives or dies.
In the book, we see the breaking of the guards surrounding the asylum and watch as they become infected and fall. In the movie, this is skipped over and when the infected finds the guards are gone, no explanation is given. It is an example of how fractured the story is, taking us through moments without explaining why we arrived. I do appreciate the way the film ends differently than the book. In the novel, everyone gets their sight back at once. The movie, smartly, has only one of the infected get their sight back and, therefore, gives a sense of hope to the survivors. It allows the viewer to imagine what the future will hold. It is a smart choice for a film and is one of the few places the script gets it right.
The National Foundation of the Blind protested the film, condemning it for what they perceived as being harmful to the blind of the world. The use of blindness is a metaphor and the fact that individuals would believe the movie is portraying blind people as uncivilized and animalistic proves they don’t understand the underlying message of the film. The story is about what happens to a world when everything you know is taken from you. Impotent people would have had just as much reason to protest Children of Men.
At the end of the day, Blindness is not reprehensible because of the way it portrays blindness but because it took an idea that was brilliant and made it boring. Meirelles wasted a technically wonderful directorial work and left us with a slight story. The movie could have been special. It is instead forgettable. I wanted to like this movie, but it lacked the vision to succeed.
A Vision of Blindness is a making-of documentary and Meirelles answered my recognition instantly when he compared the idea to a zombie movie. The feature starts with the actors being trained by keeping them blindfolded and forcing them to find their ways around without being able to see anything. It was pretty serious training and the actors weren’t even allowed to take off the blindfold to go to the bathroom, forced to go blind. It is an in depth documentary that talks to everyone involved and touches upon all areas of filmmaking and checks in at just under one hour.
There are also five deleted scenes. One of the scenes had the doctor go blind at his office, but that made it unlikely he would have put his wife in danger and would have hurt the overall effect of her putting herself in danger. Another removed plotline had a ward for those who were in contact with the infected being institutionalized as well and the King of Ward 3 being one of the non-blind before finally succumbing to the disease. One of the scenes shows him going blind. Also included is an extended sequence of the rape scene.