Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Written by Don McKellar, based on the novel by Jose Saramago
Julianne Moore as Doctor's Wife
Mark Ruffalo as Doctor
Alice Braga as Woman with the Dark Glasses
Danny Glover as Man with the Black Eye Patch
Gael Garcia Bernal as King of Ward Three
Yusuke Iseya as First Blind Man
Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.
"Blindness" is a rare film experience-one that plays with the mind and the senses, and not just the sense of sight. It's a rather frightening topic for a film-what if the human race suddenly and with explanation just went blind?-and director Fernando Meirelles gets creative and seems to have a bit of fun into creeping out his audience with just that question. Fresh off of his 2005 hit, the somewhat overrated "The Constant Gardener", I will admit that Meirelles does have a knack for the visual arts, and "Blindness" really is no exception. The bulk of the films affect comes from his choices behind the camera, and I have been thinking more and more about what he did to my other senses during the course of the film. The obvious ones are omitted-like the sense of touch, taste, and smell-but my ears were alert, and my eyes played plenty of tricks of me throughout.
The film starts in the middle of a traffic jam, where a man is suddenly struck with blindness. He is carted away in his car by another man, who than steals the car leaving the man in his apartment alone. He goes to an eye doctor, where the Doctor is puzzled by what made the man blind. The Doctor goes home to his Wife, and the next day he looses his sight. His wife calls the hospital, where it is clear that the blindness is expanding more and more. The government has no idea about what to do about the infected, and in an attempt to protect others from getting sick, they put all of the blind into a quarantine ward. And the wife pretends to be blind so that she could stand by her husband. As in most survival stories, the real trouble comes from within, and that power here is a man who declares himself the King of Ward Three, and along with a group of 'blind from birth' people, gains control of a gun and has the others give them valuables in exchange for the food hoard. And when they run out of valuables, the women give them sexual favors. Meanwhile the Doctor's Wife uses her power of sight to ensure the groups safety in the face of the dictatorship that is fast approaching.
It wasn't until after I got back home from the film did I realize that none of these characters had names. And when I went to type up a cast list for this writing, I noticed that all the characters are named after various descriptions. In addition, we really know nothing about the characters backstories, aside from a few slips that the characters make throughout. I was able to piece together that the Doctor and his Wife were going through some kind of a troubled marriage, or that the Man with the Black Eye Patch had a past that he was not very happy about. To continue on, the screenplay does not try to answer any questions about where the blindness came from, why the Doctor's Wife was the only one that could see, or even to the films ending which I'll try not to spoil. Simply put, it doesn't matter what happened. Most films of this nature try not to delve into the causes for the events that transpire-half of the reason it is scarier not knowing, and the other half is that the reason the writer comes up with is hardly anything special. This was the problem with this year's "The Happening." Instead, "Blindness" focuses on the struggle of humanity to survive, and the natural human instinct during the face of danger. While they all try to maintain an equality, there is always that group that gets a little bit of power and wants to take over. He has his followers. And the rest are all his subjects, that he has deemed up to him to control.
Meirelles has an interesting visual technique throughout. The blindness is compared to a bright white light, as if the person is swimming in milk. From time to time the screen with also filled with the whiteness, getting into the head of the blind. At times, at least for the character of the Doctor's Wife, the screen is covered in darkness when she can't see anything, allowing the viewer to focus on noises-the tension quickly increases. The dark and dank atmosphere of the shelter is very apparent, and this film does not shy away from some very vile images and moments, including an extended rape sequence from the men of Ward Three. But these dark and depressing middle images only pave the way for the rather hopeful third act, which may seem prolonged and detached from the rest of the film, but neccessary in establishing the re-order in society, and giving these characters their big finish. While we don't know much about them at the beginning and middle of the film, by the end there is a connection between them and us that is very strong. And this visual style also cements the ironic joke at the very end of the film-I won't give up any spoilers, but suffice to say that Meirelles has the last laugh as he plays with our senses.
"Blindness" is not an easy film to sit through, but it's a bold work and an interesting experience. There are moments that are tough to bear-a scene where we see a group of dogs ripping apart the dead body of a man has stayed with me after, and the filth and stench of the shelter was at times tough to bear. I can understand why many would find this a tough and murky film, but if one looks deeper into it and understands that the film wants to make one feel dirty and disturbed, they will see that there is much talent and effort into nearly every frame of this piece. I got quite a bit out of "Blindness," found the whole experience rewarding, and think its one of the year's best.