Director : Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay : Don McKellar (based on the novel by José Saramago)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Julianne Moore (Doctor’s Wife), Mark Ruffalo (Doctor), Alice Braga (Single Woman), Yusuke Iseya (First Blind Man), Yoshino Kimura (First Blind Man’s Wife), Maury Chaykin (Accountant), Danny Glover (Man With Eye Patch), Gael Garcia Bernal (Bartender), Mitchell Nye (Boy), Don McKellar (Thief)
Based on the novel by Nobel laureate José Saramago, Fernando Meirelles’s Blindness is a harrowing, if sometimes overly hammering descent into the darkest depths of human nature. A sort of Lord of the Flies parable, it suggests an inexplicable and highly contagious epidemic that renders people in an unnamed city suddenly blind. Not the typical kind of blindness, though, which is the absence of light, the blindness here is more akin to an abundance of light so that everything is washed out into a white haze, which Meirelles and cinematographer César Charlone (who worked together on both City of God and The Constant Gardener) use as the film’s visual inspiration. Perpetually washed out and at times literally blinding, Blindness assaults us visually with double images, distorted refractions, out-of-focus shots, and disorienting framing that confuses depth cues, and as if to make up for the visual disinformation it overloads the soundtrack, which makes it as difficult to watch the film as it is to digest its traumatic subject matter.
The story opens in midday traffic where a young Japanese driver (Yusuke Iseya) discovers while sitting at a red light that he is suddenly blind (the extreme close-ups of the traffic lights that open the film are the first and last times we will see primary colors in the film). A man (Don McKellar, who also penned the screenplay) offers to drive the confused man home, and then promptly steals his car (the first of many unconscionable acts to be committed). The man and his wife (Yoshino Kimura) visit an ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo), who is baffled because he cannot find anything physically wrong with the blind man. The next morning, however, the doctor discovers that he too is suddenly blind, although his wife (Julianne Moore), for some reason, is not. The spread of blindness sends the government into a panic, and they order all of the infected to be quarantined in a deserted asylum under armed guard.
It is here that the majority of the film takes place, with the conditions inside the asylum going from bad to worse as civility slowly but surely degrades under the pressure of the inflicted people’s anger, confusion, sadness, and resentment at being struck blind and by their apparent desertion by the rest of society. While the doctor and his wife (who can still see, but keeps this a secret) try to maintain order, others take advantage of the situation, especially when they come into possession of a loaded gun with which they can command authority. Thus, a small group led by a bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal) and an accountant (Maury Chaykin), who was blind before the epidemic struck and is thus at an advantage in the newly sightless world, take over the asylum and hoard all the food, at first demanding valuables and then the sexual compliance of the women.
This middle section of the film is by far its most challenging, as its slow but steady erosion of humanity is visualized via the increasingly squalid living conditions. Barely simmering chaos, putrid filth, and desperation reign as the asylum becomes little more than a fetid garbage dump, littered with refuse and waste, human and otherwise. Most disturbing, though, is the way the film depicts the power dynamics among the inflicted, with those who can abuse power quickly doing so with no sense of remorse or empathy. Yet, it is not a simplistic return to animalism, as there is something deeply sinister about the bartender and the accountant’s inhumanity. Their increasingly heinous actions aren’t driven by greed or desire, but by an inability to recognize anything in life outside of domination. They’re not savages; they’re despots. Deprived of their sight and denied by the society of which they were once a part, they are grasping at something, anything to feel connected, and that something turns out to be the degradation of those who are weaker--or at least those who maintain some semblance of humanity, which on the Hobbesian battlefield becomes a weakness--and it is all too telling that the film’s greatest rush is when Moore takes hold of a pair of scissors and strides forward to assert her own will.
Yet, the fundamental theme of Blindness is not inhumanity, but humanity. Those who see it as a bleak, cynical portrait of base human evil are missing the fact that the film suggests a kind of rebirth from the garbage-strewn ashes at the end. And even though at times it seems that there is nothing but escalating despair, Meirelles constantly reminds us of those characters who maintain some sense of humanity, even if they (understandably) succumb at times to despair and violence. Thus, the doctor, despite his intrepid sense of justice and decency, sometimes lashes out and loses his patience, while his wife bears the burden of being the only person alive who can witness the degradation of herself and those around her with all of her senses. This sometimes results in thematic sledgehammering, especially given the purposefully vague nature of both the epidemic and the characters (none of whom are ever named), but the film has enough dramatic urgency and even moments of poignancy to balance its occasional heavy-handedness.
|Distributor||Miramax / Buena Vista Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 10, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Blindness is nothing if not a visually impressive film, and the anamorphic widescreen transfer on this dual-layer DVD does a fine job of rendering the film’s complex imagery with great detail and fidelity. The film’s overall color palette is decidedly washed out, with emphasis on whites and grays and various shades of cool blues, all of which are expertly rendered, as are the various disorienting effects like out-of-focus shots and double images. Detail is strong throughout, which is particularly impressive in the garbage-strewn wasteland of the major city at the end of the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is even more impressive, with excellent reproduction of the overwhelmingly complex and at times assaultive soundtrack, which fills all the channels with great effect.|
|The supplements here are definitely a bit light, but well worth watching. The 55-minute making of documentary A Vision of Blindness provides a generally engaging look behind the scenes of the film’s production. The majority of the footage is of location photography in various cities in Canada and South America, although some time is reserved at the end for a brief discussion of the film’s use of visual effects and its unsettling score by Marco Antônio Guimarães, who invented new instruments to create it (one of the most fascinating bits, though, is the explanation that some of the film’s most arresting images were produced by filming the reflection of a video monitor in a bucket of swirling milk). Interspersed are interviews with director Fernando Meirelles, screenwriter/actor Don McKellar, cinematographer César Charlone, composer Marco Antônio Guimarães, and actors Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Maury Chaykin, Danny Glover, and Gael Garcia Bernal. The only other supplement on the disc is a series of deleted scenes, most of which are only a minute or two in length, with brief, explanatory text introductions by Meirelles.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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