There are none so blind as those who will not see, the saying goes, and Fernando Meirelles' film "Blindness", which opened across the U.S. and Canada today, demonstrates the point but occasionally misses it too, with a little over-direction in some places. That said, the strength of Mr. Meirelles' film is wholly dependent on the excellent cinematography by Cesar Charlone and it is this element that makes the film a solid, harrowing experience.
The representation of blindness could have devolved into the surface gimmicks that often grab other films on the subject, but "Blindness" shows blindness as symbolism as much as it does substance in a fable that is tense, despairing and spectacular in its depiction of anarchy. The film, which has circumstances and a tone that are unsettling at times, is adapted from the powerful and intense Nobel Prize-winning novel by Jose Saramago and apart from three small alterations sticks verbatim to Mr. Saramago's book. Accompanied by varying film stocks, Mr. Charlone's camera employs a variety of fish-eye lenses, push and pull opticals, out-of-focus lens techniques, with occasional out-of-frame shots of some of the film's major participants -- a series of fragmented and truncated representations that might be overkill in another film but because there is very little plot in Don McKellar's screen adaptation, "Blindness", all elemental and experimental, conveys its title to mostly convincing effect.
In an unnamed city (the film was shot in Canada, Uruguay and Brazil) chaos has erupted. During rush hour traffic a motorist (played by Yusuke Iseda) suddenly goes blind, and within minutes a chain reaction of blindness has gripped the entire population. A doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who treats the motorist also goes blind, but the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore) does not. Why not her? Initially, pre-blindness epidemic, the doctor's wife (as the character is labeled) is an oblivious and surface entity during a dinner table discussion; when the plague of what is called the "white blindness" ensues she is transparent and transfixed.
Ms. Moore plays a Lady Liberty in reverse, watching the poor, huddled, tired and helplessly blind masses yearning to breathe (and see) free as they stumble around in a quarantine camp set up by a nameless, faceless government, whose trigger-happy nervous military is a synonym for a police state and more telling, as a government, indulges in Hurricane Katrina-like inaction.
Ms. Moore, so spectacularly plagued and isolated as an agoraphobic in Todd Haynes' "Safe" (1995) is similarly situated in Mr. Meirelles' film. The blind scales of justice have decisively wrought a malaise upon humanity, and Ms. Moore's character is the largest part of it. She is the conscience of "Blindness" and not without blame, although the film unlike the novel resists making judgments about her place in it. There are other characters in the film who make life difficult, most notably the King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal), who had previously moonlighted as a bartender, and Mr. McKellar, who appears briefly as a thief.
"Blindness" is graced by the astuteness of Danny Glover's presence and philosophies as a man donning an eye patch, and his relationship with a woman who wears dark glasses ("I Am Legend"'s Alice Braga) is especially tender and warm. It is too bad that we don't get to see and feel more of that chemistry in the film.
It is a difficult feat to pull off what Mr. Meirelles and his cast just about manages to, and given the subject matter they don't make it the most pleasant experience. One or two scenes will be especially disquieting to some viewers and Matthew Davies and Tule Peak's production design recreates a Dante's Inferno of filth, squalor and inhumanity that is wincing. The technical proficiency is here and Mr. Meirelles' film is as much about feeling what blindness is as it is seeing what it is. Thankfully, the film neither insults the blind nor the audience's intelligence.
With: Sandra Oh as a Health Minister.
"Blindness" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity. The film's duration is two hours.
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