Written by Don McKellar
Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga & Danny Glover

In Fernando Meirelles’s latest film, a city is struck by an epidemic of blindness. Those afflicted with the “white sickness”, named such because it is a white blindness as opposed to the traditional darkness, are placed in quarantine in an abandoned mental hospital. Once you’re put in the quarantine, you can not leave. Military personnel have the exits surrounded, and are willing to kill those who try to escape. When a husband and wife arrive early on, played by Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo (no characters are given names), they step up as leaders and try to bring kindness and order inside the quarantine. Julianne Moore’s character has a secret, she can see. She followed her husband, not wanting to be separated. Soon the building is overflowing with too many people, and the mini-society they had formed begins to crumble.

I have not read the book, so I can not compare the two. I have noticed many critics are attacking the film and claiming it to be an insult to the Nobel Peace Prize winning novel by Jose Saramago. I’m sure most would agree the go-to opinion would be the original author’s. When Saramago saw Blindness, he told the director, “Fernando… I’m as happy with the movie… as I was when finished the book”. You can even see his initial, very emotional reaction, while in the theater, on YouTube. It’s not often an author praises a film adapated from his work, I can only think of when Phillip K. Dick said he loved Blade Runner. The only example where the author was wrong I can think of is Stephen King hating Kubrick’s The Shining.

Fernando Meirelles is a world-class film maker. His last three films are all attempts at masterpieces. It seems he is only interested in setting the bar as high as it can go, and never compromising. I have all the respect in the world for him and if he doesn’t always reach the bar, he comes close. City of God was a masterpiece, and The Constant Gardener, like Blindness, had it’s flaws. Also like Blindness, those flaws are forgivable and fade away from memory, while the important points of each film linger on and on.

This film is shot like no other before it. It is somewhat experimental, but I was never distracted, at least not in a bad way. Cesar Charlone, the film’s cinematographer deserves to mentioned come Oscar time early next year. There is frequent over exposure and brilliant use of shadow and reflection. One particular shot when Julianne Moore first arrives at the quarantine is astonishing. The camera sits in one spot, while she walks around and in several rooms off camera, but we can always see her in a reflection in the windows and clear glass walls.

People will be divided by the film’s brutality in certain scenes. There is a specific sequence receiving much criticism. A cruel, group rape scene, in which the women are humiliated and used. Does this scene make you angry? Uncomfortable? Miserable? Don’t let that stop you from thinking about what it may mean or represent. In an allegorical sense it could mean the raping of women’s rights. Anyways, it’s supposed to make you feel that way, it is the director’s intention to go to these dark places. Film can not always be entertaining and enjoyable. We must be honest about the depths of human indecency, to earn the right to tell the stories of unwavering kindness. And if you look close enough, you will find that that unwavering kindness is in Blindness.

The acting is solid, but Julianne Moore steals the show. She conveys through her eyes, the weight that is on her shoulders from having to be the only one who sees, the only one who can ultimately guide everyone to freedom. Mark Ruffalo is very good as always, and plays his role in an everyman fashion hard to find in Hollywood. The always superb Gael Garcia Bernal is a little too at home playing the sadistic “King of Ward 3”. This is the man, who sets the aforementioned rape in motion. In one scene, he sings to everyone through the PA system, happy as can be, laughing in between lines.

I do have a problem with the inconsistent narration from Danny Glover’s character. In two or three instances, he has a brief narration that feels very out of place. Each time we hear his thoughts, he merely describes his feelings or what is taking place, mind you he does it eloquently. It is completely unnecessary and beneath a film of such substance because it halts our own thoughts and conclusions and subjects us to his, which at least for me, were already what I was thinking about on my own. It almost seems like it’s an attempt to think for the audience so they don’t have to. Fortunately I’m discussing just two minutes out of a two hour picture but it still degrades the quality.

I have had a couple good discussions about what this film means, and most people I talk to, myself included have several ideas. My favourite theory can’t be fully discussed because it involves the final act in explaining it. I do get somewhat of a pro-anarchist vibe, as these people all struggle to survive in the hospital, where they create a mini-society. Mark Ruffalo’s characters begins a democracy and Gael Garcia Bernal starts a supposed monarchy and it all crumbles. These people can not be free until they let go of such notions.

Blindness can be seen as how humans would actually react to the devastating “white sickness”, or it can be taken allegorically in several ways. How many recent mainstream movies can you say that about? This may be the most thought-provoking film since Children of Men. That was a masterpiece, and this may be flawed, but Blindness is an admirable effort that mostly succeeds. Despite that the vast majority of critics dislike this movie, I highly recommend it. Especially to those who like being challenged by cinema. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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