Society is immobilized by "Blindness"

by Eric Melin on October 3, 2008

in Print Reviews

From the trailers, “Blindness” may look like an M. Night Shyamalan event movie where an unexplained supernatural event leads to chaos and it’s all resolved with a twist ending, but it’s actually the kind of movie that could conceivably be shown in a Western Civ course. Like that required 100-level history course, though, the movie itself sometimes feels like swallowing your medicine.

Based on the 1995 novel by Nobel-laureate José Saramago and originally published in Portuguese, “Blindness” has been described by critics as “unfilmable.” Who better, then, to take the reins of an English-language film adaptation than the adventurous Fernando Meirelles, whose Brazilian stunner “City of God” nabbed him a Best Director nomination? (He also led Rachel Weisz to a Best Supporting Actress win in his cross-genre international political thriller “The Constant Gardener.”)

blindness julianne moore 2008Maybe the reason the book carried that label was because what is depicted in the story works better metaphorically—and when you don’t have to actually see them played out.

Set in an unnamed city populated by all ethnicities, where people drive European cars and everyone speaks with a different accent (but they all speak English), “Blindness” centers around a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), who are ushered into an internment camp when people in the city are suddenly stricken with “white blindness.”

The ambiguous setting already removes the movie from reality and is a great way of introducing sense of otherworldliness, throwing everything off balance in “Blindness” from the very beginning. One of the truly unsettling aspects of the film is the way the epidemic is portrayed visually. All the colors are washed out, as everything is infected by white. Flashes of light intrude on the frame, which toggles in and out of focus when the movie switches to someone else’s point of view. Not Moore’s, of course, because for some reason, she is not blind.

Why? It doesn’t matter. Her character enters the same building to protect and support her husband and the roles in their relationship slowly change. It soon becomes overcrowded and the people go from being isolated to being completely ignored. The hordes of newly blind waste no time trying to organize and set up some sort of society. The woman’s husband emerges as a leader, but is quickly usurped by a greedy and shallow opportunist (Gael Garcia Bernal) who wants material possessions and anything else he can get his hands on. He’s not above taking things by force.

ruffalo blindness julianne mooreIf the newly blind are the more helpless in this evolving culture, then a blind person who’s lived with the disability his whole life would have some advantages over them. That means a seeing person could be very powerful. “Blindness” asks tough questions about what societal rules we live by and what responsibility we have towards our fellow citizens. At what point will one feel compelled to act on that responsibility?

There is nothing like an equalizing crisis to bring out the worst in people, and “Blindness” pretty much covers it all. As this new society—born out of neglect, confusion, and filth—continues to grow, the dark side of human nature seems to reign. We’re talking “Lord of the Flies” material here.

Seeing it all play out in front of you is a very voyeuristic feeling. Meirelles switches point of view every now and then, but mostly this is Moore’s story. It has to be, or we wouldn’t see very much. We are right along with her, watching in horror as people disregard even the most basic of human responsibilities. Is this what would really happen to a modern world so addicted to its conveniences?

“Blindness” does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, but its real purpose is to reveal what is behind the masks that we all wear for social convention. It can’t help but come off a little pretentious and preachy because witnessing this behavior firsthand makes the allegorical obvious. It is like taking your medicine also in the fact that it tastes really bad going down. It’s unpleasant and some of it is downright pessimistic for sure, but there is something cleansing about the movie and for some of the characters—finally, literally cleansing—once the credits are rolling.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon Sholly October 6, 2008 at 9:58 am

I’d heard such crappy things about this movie. Thanks to your review it sounds more interesting. . . One thing that threw me for a loop was seeing protesters outside a movie theater last Friday holding signs that read “Blindness is NOT a Tragedy” and “The Director Got It Wrong!” Weird.

Reply

2 Jon Sholly October 6, 2008 at 9:58 am

I’d heard such crappy things about this movie. Thanks to your review it sounds more interesting. . . One thing that threw me for a loop was seeing protesters outside a movie theater last Friday holding signs that read “Blindness is NOT a Tragedy” and “The Director Got It Wrong!” Weird.

Reply

3 Eric Melin October 6, 2008 at 12:14 pm

The people who protest it miss the point of the movie completely. IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY. it’s not a perfect film, but it’s interesting, for sure. Protesters are funny because they’re only helping the movie’s business…

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4 Eric Melin October 6, 2008 at 12:14 pm

The people who protest it miss the point of the movie completely. IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY. it’s not a perfect film, but it’s interesting, for sure. Protesters are funny because they’re only helping the movie’s business…

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5 Clark October 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Have you guys read the book?
The protesters don’t know what they are talking about, they just want attention. The book is actually metaphorical and beautiful. It doesn’t mean to say blind guys are pigs or something like that.
The movie did not capture all this beauty, it’s kinda rushed and boring, and it ignores the part of the girl with the dark glasses, but it’s a good movie anyway.
I recommend reading the book and skipping the movie tough.

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6 Clark October 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Have you guys read the book?
The protesters don’t know what they are talking about, they just want attention. The book is actually metaphorical and beautiful. It doesn’t mean to say blind guys are pigs or something like that.
The movie did not capture all this beauty, it’s kinda rushed and boring, and it ignores the part of the girl with the dark glasses, but it’s a good movie anyway.
I recommend reading the book and skipping the movie tough.

Reply

7 Nathan Victor October 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Everyone has thought about what it might be like for them to lose a sense. However, the film asks what if everyone lost it? The film also reminds a person of berserk situations such as the Zimbardo prison experiment. It provokes the question of what beast would come out of me if thrown into an altered social environment. It’s an ultimate hypothetical “what if?”

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8 Nathan Victor October 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Everyone has thought about what it might be like for them to lose a sense. However, the film asks what if everyone lost it? The film also reminds a person of berserk situations such as the Zimbardo prison experiment. It provokes the question of what beast would come out of me if thrown into an altered social environment. It’s an ultimate hypothetical “what if?”

Reply

9 Eric Melin October 7, 2008 at 9:38 am

Clark & Nathan-
I haven’t read the book, but I can see how this idea mnight be more effectivbe in print, with your imagination going full tilt. It is a great “what if;” it’s also a way to imagine the brith pangs of a new society. Imperfect maybe, but certainly worth discussion.

Reply

10 Eric Melin October 7, 2008 at 9:38 am

Clark & Nathan-
I haven’t read the book, but I can see how this idea mnight be more effectivbe in print, with your imagination going full tilt. It is a great “what if;” it’s also a way to imagine the brith pangs of a new society. Imperfect maybe, but certainly worth discussion.

Reply

11 Struff September 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

Haven’t seen the film (didn’t actually even know it had been made) but I read the book a couple of years ago, and then immediately re-read it twice over. It’s absolutely stunning, both in its vivid imagery (ironic given the subject matter) and its dissection of a society always on the brink of falling apart. I’m glad books like this are being adapted for cinema, as it brings the tales to those who may never have heard of the book, or held any interest in reading it – it’s always a toss-up as to whether the films will be any good or not (see Children of Men – good film, but why even bother pretending it was based on the book?), and hopefully Blindness will stand up well when I get the chance to see it.

Reply

12 Struff September 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

Haven’t seen the film (didn’t actually even know it had been made) but I read the book a couple of years ago, and then immediately re-read it twice over. It’s absolutely stunning, both in its vivid imagery (ironic given the subject matter) and its dissection of a society always on the brink of falling apart. I’m glad books like this are being adapted for cinema, as it brings the tales to those who may never have heard of the book, or held any interest in reading it – it’s always a toss-up as to whether the films will be any good or not (see Children of Men – good film, but why even bother pretending it was based on the book?), and hopefully Blindness will stand up well when I get the chance to see it.

Reply

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