Blindness Review

One of the more unpleasant films you might see, Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, an adaptation of Nobel Prize winner José Saramago's novel, still manages to make dystopia maudlin. It seems to show the viewer how very not okay things can get while nonetheless asking for leeway to life affirm. Two hours of grunge and grime, bright white and shots out of focus, and that’s how these nameless characters leave us? If there’s a point other than how desperately Blindness wants to be an allegory on oppression, chaos and the human condition, ideas that simply do not coalesce in this film version, please whisper the secret to me.

The adaptation written by Don McKellar, who also plays the thief character in the movie, stubbornly wants to disorient the audience, but doesn’t seem to know exactly how. It begins with a Japanese man suddenly going blind while driving in traffic. His blindness swiftly infects those he comes into contact with and so on, turning the condition into a contagious disease. A slow panic erupts and the government quarantines the afflicted in a military-guarded prison camp. Those blinded include an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo), a prostitute (Alice Braga), a man with an eyepatch (Danny Glover), and the prostitute’s john (Gael Garcia Bernal). Among the multiple wards of the blind, only the doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore) has retained her vision. After insisting on staying with her husband, she mysteriously seems immune to the infectious nature of the outbreak.

The film makes a conscious decision to neither explain the widespread blindness nor give much attention to the world outside the quarantined area. An extremely undeveloped venture into the government’s handling of the situation uses Sandra Oh as the Minister of Health in just a couple of scenes, but feels awkward and ineffective. Though part of this is admirable in the direction of a Kafkaesque fever nightmare, the remaining ingredients fail to support its singularity. We should ideally care about these characters’ fates or have some concern for the overall humanity of the situation. That we don’t is an unforgivable flaw in the film. Too many characters beholden to stumbling around without sight make for a complete lack of development in any of these people save for, perhaps, the doctor and his wife. These are our obvious protagonists but there’s still no sense of any real sympathy or caring for them. Are they good people, bad people, boring people? The two seem to take the role of de facto leaders in their group, but this should be a given. If the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind then what exactly would that make the two-eyed woman?

The remaining roles of importance are filled out with either stock and one-dimensional characters (like McKellar's bad Samaritan thief) or potentially interesting ones still too thinly drawn. Glover’s man with the eyepatch is mostly decoration until the last few minutes. Braga’s character may be the most compelling of the bunch, but we’d hardly know since she gets nothing to do except be a monkeywrench between the doctor and his wife. The King of Ward 3 played by Bernal is a simple maniac better suited to being a comic book villain. His rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is not funny, poignant, scary or necessary. Like much of the film, it’s just there to kill time clumsily.

Blindness obviously derives from something that had the intention of having a point, of possessing ideas. I’ve not read the source novel, but I trust that, based on its reputation, the book must be of greater weight than this film. Where I suspect the movie plunges into irrelevance is its insistence on not only theatrically reducing the characters to puppets, but also bungling the allegorical ambitions. Add to that how ugly the entire thing looks, both in the selection of shots and the appearance of most everything being either solar eclipse white or lit like an alleyway, and you start to wonder who could possibly appreciate, much less enjoy, this film. To apparently achieve the effect of blindness, the picture often goes bright white before letting us barely make out shapes and objects. This would be fine except the blind people in the film see only white, not blobs. Don’t bother trying to replicate the blindness if it’s only going to be done halfway.

While we’re at it, how about not even attempting to stir up those Gitmo parallels. It’s done with such incredible slapdash that almost no one, regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, will find any value in the simplistic and leaden nature with which it’s presented. Much of the movie even seems like it’s solely interested in offering itself up as an allegory, a mistake evidenced by the poorly drawn characters and unconcern for anything outside the prison. An allegory should ideally uncover something not yet known about a situation. It should shed light on an ordeal that hasn’t been already determined to be outrageous by a great number of people. Being tossed into a place you cannot escape from, with horrid conditions and little concern or understanding on the immediate outside, has, I’m pretty sure, already been established as a severe injustice the likes of which will hardly be helped by a below middling movie. The more overarching idea of chaos resulting from just a sleight shift in the societal balance is compelling in theory, but mishandled on-screen. Meirelles' approach is initially too cold, before the treacly business at the end, for the viewer to relate to the characters on a human level.

(spoilers ahead)

Extending the olive branch beyond the ineffectual attempts at allegory, the film doesn’t really work as a straight drama, much less the “thriller” advertised on the back of the DVD case. Why the doctor’s wife doesn’t act earlier against the King of Ward 3 is confounding. You might understand her reluctance to use violence initially, but it’s only after her entire group of women has been raped that she decides to stand up, not just for herself, but for everyone. The entirely convenient escape, if that’s the proper word, is then followed by the realisation that the blindness is pervasive. Let us not get into the specific questions of why and how here, but are we really supposed to believe the seven survivors can merrily continue? It’s the meek inheriting the earth here. By the final reversal and the open-ended last shot, there’s only disappointment remaining. Blindness seems mangled in its message and misguided in its delivery. The beam of hope at the end is a thematic inconsistency with zero resonating effect . The cherry on top of a shit sundae.

The Disc

Given a 1.85:1 progressive transfer, Blindness has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The film is currently presented in R1 by Miramax, but only on DVD, which is dual-layered. It looks acceptable, but hardly sensational. This is a very ugly-looking movie, with everything either blindingly white or muddy and dark. The appearance of the film has also been intentionally manipulated, causing a highly unnatural overall aesthetic. Still, detail is just moderately good. Additionally, some digital noise is visible at times, though the image looks clean overall.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 track is offered in English. The rear channels are used perhaps more than expected, with several little noises isolated back there. Oddly enough, the most jarring of these is probably a blender Julianne Moore’s character uses early in the film, the sounds of which are situated on the left. Otherwise, an occasional bell or musical instrument from the score is nicely balanced with the dialogue. Once or twice the dialogue goes to a whisper and it can be difficult to make out unless you use the optional subtitles. This isn’t a frequent problem, however. The subtitles are yellow in colour and offered in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish, as well as a dubbed audio track in the latter language. The dialogue between the Japanese characters is subtitled on a separate track that’s also optional, but is the default.

Disc operations are offered in English or Spanish when the disc is inserted. A series of previews, lead by an anti-smoking advertisement and followed by trailers for Confessions of a Shopaholic, Adventureland, and Doubt, play automatically. These are also found, along with clips for Miracle at St. Anna, Happy-Go-Lucky, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, in a “Sneak Peeks” option from the main menu.

A lengthy making-of piece, entitled “Visions of Blindness” (55:30), is a step above the usual, and is presented in enhanced widescreen. It ranges from the process of securing the book’s film rights to filming in Canada, Brazil and Uruguay, finally ending up with a Lisbon screening where the book's author first watched the movie. Five deleted scenes, each with written introductions by director Fernando Meirelles, total six minutes and finish off the bonus material.

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Last updated: 14/07/2018 04:09:13

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