The plot sounds familiar. A mysterious illness renders everyone incapable of doing something vital, and man's salvation hinders on one woman who isn't affected by that illness. It does sound familiar. Wasn't Julianne Moore in a movie just like this before, just two years ago that was also based on a book?
BLINDNESS isn't as action-oriented or perhaps as satisfying as Children of Men (2006), another film featuring four-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, which draws some parallels, but it is just as engaging from an acting and sound design perspective. It's also very curiously photographed.
Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles scored many accolades and certainly the appreciation of me for his two last features, City of God (2002) and The Constant Gardener (2005), both amazing feats of cinematography. For this film, however, I'd like to praise less the way the whole thing looks and more how the whole thing sounds. At the movies, the point is to have more of a visual experience, but I have to admit that, like a blind person whose other senses become heightened, I started focusing more on the noises coming from the screen than the actual lights.
With that being said, you still don't want to take your eyes off it. There isn't as sumptuous a feast for the retinas as one might hope, but I was fascinated by the actors and their performances. Obviously, all of the actors had to play newly-blind people. Yet, I don't care about that. It's expected that the actors not look at the person to whom they're speaking, or, have to stumble when they walk. No. I'm ignoring their acting blind. What I'm talking about is how they react and how they convey normal emotions in this abnormal and paralyzing situation.
I didn't read the book by Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago, on which this film was based. But, I got the feeling that the book, like this film, is less about the actual blindness, and more about, when you truly level the playing field, put everyone on the same sinking boat, and see how they react and how they cope.
In this case, the playing field has been leveled by an illness dubbed the White Sickness. The White Sickness has gone around and infected everyone in the city. The White Sickness has in effect made them all blind, not blind in the traditional sense where all you see is black. No. The White Sickness makes everyone see nothing but white, a sea of bright, milky white, along with little to no recognition of shapes and forms.
It starts out one day with a Japanese man driving his car. It's an average day. He's just an average guy when, all of a sudden, his vision is gone. He has to stop his car in the middle of the street. Cars are honking. People are getting frustrated. The Japanese man is seriously scared.
Slowly but surely, similar happenings begin all around the city that seem to branch out from this one Japanese individual, when, in reality, there is no pattern to it. Different places, with men, women, and children the Japanese man never meets, start to suffer from the same sight problems.
This dominoes into a series of accidents, deaths and destruction. Scientists can find no cause, no explanation at all. They think it's the result of some kind of virus, so all they can do is start putting infected people into quarantine.
Not only does everyone go blind, they also become confined to a restricted space and only get a limited amount of food. What happens is something we've seen before in other stories. Though its occurrence elsewhere doesn't take away from the power and brutality of it here.
What happens is that mankind, when cut from its luxuries, and creature comforts, and put in a desperate, survival situation, starts to devolve. Man becomes vicious, dirty, and dangerous. Man becomes no better than wild animals.
Not only do they start acting like wild animals, initially, they're treated as wild animals. The government's quarantine becomes tantamount to the Japanese internment prisons or the Nazi work camps during World War II. People are shepherded inside, locked in what amounts to cages, and if they step out of line, they're shot dead like rapid dogs.
Yet, despite outside treatment, the inhumane way humans begin treating other humans inside the walls is horrifying. At one point, things sink so low as to result in an Eyes Wide Shut moment, only more evil, with a dark, dank, disgusting orgy involving sex trade, felatio, rape, physical abuse and murder.
Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The streets become ravaged, littered with waste and human excrement. Anarchy is the rule of law, and it's dog eat dog, or even dog eat man right outside your front stoop.
It's even suggested that in survival situations morality goes out the window. Again, this is nothing new, but what's most striking is that even in this desperate world that is totally blind, some men still hang onto prejudices and bigotries.
In one scene, two blind men are walking down a hallway. There's the Man-in-Front and the Man-Behind. The Man-in-Front is helping the Man-Behind by guiding him back to their ward, which is called Ward One. The man who calls himself the King of Ward Three threatened them with starvation if they didn't do what he said. The King of Ward Three has taken control of the food rations and has a gun, so he uses that as leverage over everyone else. The King of Ward Three, played fiendishly by Gael Garcia Bernal, appropriately sings Stevie Wonder songs.
The Man-Behind says he doesn't trust the King of Ward Three to deliver on the food rations. The Man-Behind says he doesn't trust black people. The Man-in-Front says that they don't know the King of Ward Three's ethnicity. The Man-Behind says, "I know a nigger's voice." The Man-in-Front breaks away from the Man-Behind, as the audience can clearly see that the Man-in-Front is a black man.
It shows that even in a situation like this, in blindness, such bigotry and distrust can still exist. What's sad is that many people do fall to distrust. They lose all faith in humanity, representing perhaps a lack of compassion to begin with. It becomes either complete selfishness or feigned cooperation.
It's an ugly side of ourselves that we try to suppress. It may lie dormant in all of us, and we're all just blind to it. We're blind to it until we become lost in the dark, or in this case the white, and all we have to look at is ourselves. I think Meirelles captures that.
Meirelles captures the ugliness, but he also captures the beauty. In one scene, the Japanese man is reunited with his wife from whom he had been separated. Even in a blinding white blur, the two lovers are still able to find and come to each other, if only by the sound of each other's voice.
In another scene, an old black man with an eye patch, played by Danny Glover, invokes for us the idea of what is beautiful to a blind man. In one instance, it may be the sensuality of having a warm rain shower down upon you. In another, it may be touching the face of the person for whom you care the most. It makes the point that beauty isn't necessarily what you can see. The same goes for ugliness and that it's perhaps what we feel.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for nudity, sexual violence and language
Running Time: 2 hrs.