By Ted Faraone
Rated: R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.
Release Date: 2008-10-03
Starring: Don McKellar
Official Website: http://blindness-themovie.com/
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Anyone who has problems with cinematic squalor should avoid “Bilndness”, helmer Fernando Meirelles vehicle for Julianne Moore released via Miramax. Much of it is set in a detention center for the newly blind, a facility lacking doctors, nurses, and even janitors. After what appears to be a couple of months, judging by Moore’s roots, it — and the cast – get pretty filthy.
An unexplained epidemic of blindness overcomes a deliberately unidentified cosmopolitan city. Authorities quarantine the blind, surrounding them with trigger-happy guards. Among the first to suffer blindness are an eye-doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and a wealthy Japanese (Yusuke Iseya). When police arrive to arrest the eye-doctor, his wife (Julianne Moore), who can see, feigns blindness and insists on joining him in detention. There follows a sort of Milgram Experiment in human depravity among the detainees. Hierarchies develop. Villains are totally villainous. Good guys, including the characters played by Ruffalo and Moore, are at turns fearful, courageous, smart, stupid, hopeful, hopeless, resentful, and angry. Meanwhile, the outside world collapses as blindness spreads. We know this because an old man with an eye patch (Danny Glover) has smuggled in a radio.
The bad guys commandeer the food, holding it for ransom. Once the good guys run out of valuables, the bad guys demand their women. Moore’s character (nobody has a name) leads a revolt in a sort of perverted Lysistrata without the jokes – foreshadowed by repeated shots of a sharp scissors.
Meirelles directs with a sort of moral neutrality. The asylum of the blind, like much of the rest of the picture, is shot with multiple cameras to good effect. One feels more like a voyeur than part of a theater audience. Moore gets kudos for portraying a sighted person who has to act blind to fool her captors.
In the final reels the captives escape detention only to find the entire city, if not the world, has succumbed to blindness. The electricity failed, shops are looted, trains no longer run, and hungry dogs eat the dead. Yet amid a sudden rainstorm a sort of community develops as blind people, weeks without clean water or sanitary services strip and wash in nature’s shower. It presages an ambivalent conclusion, almost holding the mirror up to the audience.
“Blindness,” an adaptation of Portuguese author José Saramago’s novel by Don McKellar (who also plays a blinded thief) is not easy to watch. Because most trappings – backstory, names, a recognizable setting, an explanation for the epidemic – in other words most of the context – are stripped away – attention is focused on a compelling if unpleasant story, which feels shorter its 120 minute length.
Tech credits are excellent. Lensing by César Charlone and editing by Daniel Rezende shine. Special mention goes to production designers Matthew Davies and Tulé Peak. Pic is rated R due to nudity (the blind can’t see each other naked), sex, and violence.