Blindness, Fernando Meirelles’ follow-up to the Constant Gardener, is an elegant, emotionally-heavy film, and one that I admired a great deal, despite its many storytelling flaws. Based on Portuguese author Jose Saramango’s novel, the movie is a little too intellectual for me, but I can imagine how much more I would’ve enjoyed it if I were smart enough to understand its many layers and what I’m sure is a very complex allegory buried beneath the surface. Unfortunately, my Lit minor came from a state school, and they clearly didn’t prepare me to dig this deep to find the more profound, hidden meaning. Or maybe a deeper, hidden metaphor didn’t exist at all, in which case I’m satisfied to settle for the more superficial one: That beneath all of world’s ugliness, there is a deep reservoir of humanity, but it takes a mass epidemic of blindness to bring that out.
Blindness is a grim, slow-moving, sometimes tense, always uncomfortable movie to watch, and given how hard I had to work to sit through two hours that felt like four, I’d like to believe there was more to it than what I ultimately took away. But if there’s not — if Blindness is just a more bleak version of Lord of the Flies for adults and nothing more — I’ll still take it. Because it felt deeper than that, more substantial, and in a week where a movie about a talking Chihuahua opened with nearly $30 million, I’ll take pretension, goddamnit. At this point on the release schedule, the appearance of importance is better than a complete lack of it.
Blindness opens on a traffic jam in an indeterminate city, where an Asian man sitting behind the wheel of his car has gone inexplicably blind. The source of his blindness is never revealed, nor are the origins explored in the film. He just goes blind, though it’s not the pitch dark variety. It’s a white blindness; it’s too much light, rather than a lack of it, which is a metaphor, I’m sure, for something profound (or perhaps an allusion to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band). Another man offers to help him home, only to steal his car. Then the Asian man’s wife takes him to the eye doctor’s office, where he unwittingly infects everyone in the office with the blindness, though they don’t know it for another 12 hours.
In the center of the epidemic is that eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), who is for some reason immune to the blindness that’s spreading. The Ministry of Health begins to round up all those infected and quarantines them in an asylum, where the majority of the film takes place. The doctor’s wife doesn’t want to be separated from her husband, so she feigns blindness so that she can be quarantined with the rest.
Because of the infectious nature of the blindness, no one with sight dare enter the asylum, so the growing number of internees are forced to fend for themselves inside, not an easy task when you can’t even see to find the restroom. The first wave of victims ultimately bands together inside, as conditions begin to degenerate, as medical supplies are cut off, as soldiers begin to pick off the infected, as food begins to run out, and eventually, as an armed group of men take over the asylum, as society on the inside and outside completely breaks down.
Given the brutal nature of the film; the overly saturated, gloomy colors; and the slow pace, I expected that Blindness would continue, interminably, to degenerate until the bleakness pulverized me into apathy. There are several points in the film, in fact, where I thought the credits would roll and I’d walk out despondent. But beneath all the film’s despair, there is hope. Meirelles’ just has to tear absolutely everything away — clothes, comfort, safety, material possessions, and even dignity — to uncover it. It takes too long to get there; the journey is muddled, bogged down in pretention; and the movie drifts aimlessly for long periods of time. But Blindness does eventually find its way, a little too methodically, perhaps. But when it does, it’s worth the effort. It’s worth it because Julianne Moore’s arresting performance, it’s worth it because it’s provocative; it’s worth it because of its thematic exploration. It may not always be successful, but right now, the mere fact that a studio film actually has themes to explore is cause for celebration. Because let’s be honest: materialistic, blind people forced to live in squalor to discover their inner humanity is so much better than a materialistic dog with sight that never discovers anything worth discovering.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.Bleak? Yes. But Are There Talking Animals? No. Advantage: Blindness.
Blindness / Dustin Rowles
Film | October 7, 2008 | Comments ()