Blindness (2008)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar, Maury Chaykin, Mitchell Nye, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Susan Coyne, Sandra Oh
  • Director: Fernando Meirelles
  • Screenplay: Don McKellar (Novel by Jose Saramago)
  • Length: 120 min.
  • MPAA Rating: R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.

What would happen if the end of the world suddenly arrived in the form of a hugely contagious disease? The movie Blindness examines that exact situation when that contagion inflicts a loss of sight.

Fernando Meirelles rose to quick prominence on the world stage with his Brazilian film City of God, a harrowing tale about a budding photographer growing up in a destructive environment where guns, drugs and violence were all anyone could look forward to. He then turned his lens to the English language with the political thriller The Constant Gardener another film that caught on strong with critics for its detailed exploration of corporate greed within the pharmaceuticals industry in America as it supplied drugs to Africans.

Continuing to push the envelope and ask questions about basic human interaction, Meirelles has chosen Jose Saramago's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Blindness to bring to the big screen. Like his earlier two films, but perhaps this time with more confidence and conviction, Meirelles asks difficult questions about human behavior when his life and existence is stretched to its limit.

The story starts off with one man (Yusuke Iseya) being rendered completely blind within the flash of an eye as he's sitting at a traffic signal. In common rude behavior, those trapped behind him are oblivious to his condition and cajole and honk at him. A supposedly altruistic passerby agrees to drive him home.

From there, he is examined by a prominent eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who also contracts the illness, which he has inadvertently passed on to everyone he's come in contact with except his wife.

As the government moves in quickly to contain the potential epidemic, those afflicted are shuttled off to a holding facility where the progressively spreading disease slowly fills up the various wards.

Only one person can see: the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore) who must fake a similar condition so as not to scare or earn the enmity of those who are suffering. But, it is through her eyes that we are allowed to see how the compassionate might view the situation from an outside world. But, she seems to be the only one who cares about the people there, for the guards that have locked them away have sworn to shoot anyone trying to flee.

Meirelles make a powerful statement about human responses in this film. When deprived of one of our most valuable senses, various types of personalities will emerge, from the woe-is-me to the opportunistic. Each kind of person is given a chance to display their compassion, disgust or villainy in the confines of the film.

There are many scenes that are exceedingly disturbing from the use of the hallway as a toilet to the willful destruction of human life by unconcerned guards to the rationing of food by a egomaniacal dictator demanding payment for sustenance to the degrading treatment to all people, most notably women. Blindness is an extremely difficult film to watch because of this, but not an ounce of these scenes is unnecessary.

When looking at a film like this, our comfortability needs to be pressed. We need to challenge how we look at human behavior and understand that what we're seeing is entirely possible given the way people treat each other in our modern world. Even the most kindhearted person can resort to dastardly means if they are pushed over the edge. Few characters in the film can truly say they made it out of the situation without having to change their perceptions, which is exactly what the audience goes through watching the film.

There are countless discussions that could be had after watching this film. It's debatable whether the swift government reaction is good planning or if it doesn't suggest they had a hand in crafting the disease. You could discuss how the film feels like it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, arguing that this kind of situation isn't applicable to one nationality or another. Every opinion about the film could be an equally valid one if only it is combined with a serious discourse on the ramifications of the situation.

If it is possible for the events in Blindness to occur, and I firmly believe that the responses portrayed are perfectly within reason considering modern moral conflicts, then it would behoove us to talk about these kinds of issues and determine if they are systemic, unavoidable or treatable. Could society really progress to a point where the film is a mere fantasy and not a stark examination of the possibilities of reality?