Lowdown: The whole of society has gone blind but for one woman.
Apocalyptic works of science fiction have always been a favorite sub-genre for me. The Terminator is probably the best example but there are more recent ones, such as Children of Man. The promise of another effort – Blindness - by the promising Brazilian director of City of God fame, Fernando Meirelles, meant this was one film I was looking to rent.
The idea behind Blindness is quite promising. One day a driver stuck in a traffic jam goes blind. People help him out while others use the opportunity to abuse the newly blind. The guy goes on to see the eye specialist doctor (Mark Ruffalo), and the day after the doctor goes blind as well as all the other people who were with him at the clinic (amongst them Danny Glover). And so the blindness spreads, touching everyone in its wake other than the doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore).
The government quickly provides its kneejerk reaction and places all blind people in detention. Not ordinary detention: they put them in an enclosure, erect gates and barbed wires around them, and let the blind to their own. Moore, however, would not be separated from her husband, so she pretends to be blind and joins the detention – thus providing us with a set of eyes to witness the atrocities of such a complex for the blind (think hygiene, think toilets).
Most of Blindness takes place inside the detention center. We follow the social interactions between inmates and we see how they cope. Quickly enough they are separated into groups, and quicker some groups are willing to use violence establish a rule of terror. As we go we witness the power of a person who was blind before the epidemic and knows how to cope with blindness as well as the power of the person with vision in a world of the blind when they are willing to use their powers for better or worse.
The analogy of this Lord of the Flies self contained world is obvious, as in Blindness telling us something about the things most of us can’t see and how they affect us. There are political, religious and social implications to this analogy. The problem is that things remain at the level of the analogy and fail to rise from there, or rather they are prevented from rising. For a start, none of the film’s numerous characters is ever identified by name; they’re all roles rather than people, as in “doctor”, “receptionist” or “Japanese wife”. That’s quite an achievement if you think about it! But the biggest manifestation of the problem is in the way many if not most of the events taking place in Blindness fail to make sense. I’m not talking about the blindness epidemic, which is unlikely yet possible; I’m talking about the way people behave in the conditions that Blindness puts them in and the challenges that face them.
On the positive side, Julian Moore is excellent as ever. Besides, one has to give the nod to a film that is not afraid to show us our own shit and to point a finger at just how cruel this indifferent world can make us; it’s a point most of us prefer to ignore.
Best scene: Talking about cruelty, the scene in which the women from one group of inmates are used as payment for the food being kept by another will not leave you indifferent. The sad thing is that it’s not science fiction either.
Technical assessment: Another DVD that was butchered for the Australian market with a picture that’s totally devoid of any shred of detail. What a shame! At least they didn’t mess with the sound, which is quite alright for a DVD.
Overall: I consider Blindness to be a missed opportunity. 3.5 out of 5 stars.