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Impaired Post-Apocalyptic Vision

Blindness (2008)

Ken Woroner/Miramax Films

In an unidentified, multi-ethnic city, people start going blind. The first man is waiting at a red light when he finds he can no longer see. Another man (Don McKellar, who wrote the screenplay) offers to drive him home and then steals his car. When the first man's wife appears, she takes him to a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who goes blind the next morning when he wakes up next to his wife (Julianne Moore). The other people in his waiting room (including Alice Braga and Danny Glover) are separately brought to a quarantine unit and held under armed guard. Eventually, everyone is blind, in the whole city and maybe the country. Everyone except Ms. Moore.

The author of the book on which "Blindness" is based, José Saramago, recently won the Nobel Prize for literature. The director of this film, Fernando Meirelles, was Oscar-nominated for his first international success, "City of God." The five main actors in this film are among the most garlanded and respected working in the industry today. And yet "Blindness" never takes off. This is because of a failure of imagination at the very source.

This is the fourth film in recent memory which chose not to name most of its characters. Immense credit must go to Susie Figgis and Deirdre Bowen, who cast so carefully and cleverly that it's very easy to keep everyone straight. What is perhaps an attempt at univeralizing a story comes across as contemptuous and dehumanizing. But that is very far from the most unpleasant attitude on display in "Blindness." In the quarantine unit, the guards have given up distributing the food fairly. One man, played by Gael García Bernal, has a gun and uses it for his own benefit. First he and his friends demand all the valuables. Then once the gold and jewelry have run out, he makes it clear what must happen next: "Women for food."

They say in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So what are we possibly to make of a film in which the only person who can see allows herself and her friends to be raped? She can fight, despite the presence of the gun; she can steal the food on her own and distribute it at her leisure. So what possible reason is there for anyone to senselessly submit to this? Do they really think all Ms. Moore's character wants is to be a good wife to her husband. It's a puerile male fantasy which forgets that certainly her first interest would be to protect herself.

Moviegoers could spend the remainder of the film imagining how much preferable it would have been to have watched Ms. Moore become an avenging angel, ruling the city and stamping out such appalling behavior by virtue of her sight; or alternatively wished that Ms. Braga's character – who was much feistier, tougher and funnier than anyone else – could have been the one to keep her sight, rather than enact her limp story arc in which she learned that by loving other people, she can love herself. Instead we were meant to sympathize with Mr. Ruffalo as he struggles to come to terms with his emasculation due to his wife's superiority. Oh, please.

Obviously, Mr. Meirelles's reputation, and the chance to play blind was what attracted such an interesting cast to this project. Mr. Ruffalo plays mensches with such conviction that he continues to endear himself, just as Mr. Bernal seems determined to smash his pretty-boy reputation. And you will hear nothing said against Mr. Glover. He's made lots of bad movies, but he hasn't acted badly in any of them. But what is Ms. Moore doing in this film? I've discussed the film with friends and none of us can figure out why she stooped to this.

So for a film about not being able to see, how does it look? Cinematographer Cesar Charlone shot in an interesting style, where everything is over-exposed and slightly whited-out. When almost everyone complained of seeing bright white lights instead of darkness, it perfectly complemented the film's overall themes. The production design of Matthew Davies and Tule Peak – especially in the initial apartments which were all glass, edges and corners – makes an interesting commentary on how we navigate the world around us, taking our vision for granted. The city exteriors were filmed in Brazil, Japan and Uruguay (of all places), adding an unfamiliar, otherworldly feel - where on earth were these astonishing cities? This clarity of vision makes it all the more regrettable to learn from the end credits that the obvious and intrusive product placements were just that.

It's unfathomable how all the intelligent people who were involved in this film have made their three basic mistakes. They've forgotten that women stand up for themselves, not just the people they love. They've ruined the audience's sympathy with their heroes by causing them to make such stupid choices. Finally, the film's focus on the least interesting and forgettable characters would have been less blatant if they were not all male. Were they so overwhelmed by the big ideas in their script that they became blind to its faults? It's difficult to draw any other conclusion.


Opens on Oct. 3 in the United States and on Nov. 21 in Britain.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; written by Don McKellar, based on the novel by José Saramago; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Daniel Rezende; music by Marco Antônio Guimarães/Uakti; production designer, Tulé Peake; produced by Niv Fichman, Andrea Barata Ribeiro and Sonoko Sakai; released by Miramax Films (United States) and Pathé Distribution (Britain). Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 18 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Julianne Moore (Doctor’s Wife), Mark Ruffalo (Doctor), Alice Braga (Woman With Dark Glasses), Don McKellar (Thief), Maury Chaykin (Accountant), Danny Glover (Man With Black Eye Patch) and Gael García Bernal (Bartender/King of Ward Three).


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