Based on the Nobel Prize winning novel of the same name, “Blindness” follows the travails of a group of people afflicted with a fictional disease: white blindness. It strikes without warning, leaving its victims with cloudy, milky white vision and the inability to see anything else.
As the disease spreads in an unnamed city, the fictional government tries to quarantine the blind, forcing them into a hospital where, oddly, there are no doctors or orderlies or nurses. They are supposed to fend for themselves, a task possible only because a woman who has retained her sight (Julianne Moore) has sneaked into the quarantine with her blind husband (Mark Ruffalo).
Inside the hospital, the quarantined are arbitrarily divided into wards; soon the wards are at each other’s throats. Ward three somehow manages to get a monopoly on the food supply and begins charging people for the privilege of eating. When valuables run out, the ward’s leader demands sexual favors for food.
After one of the characters suggests killing the “King of Ward Three” and creating an equitable distribution system for the hospital’s food, another says that all such behavior would do is “start a war.”
Apparently it’s better to allow the gang rapes of your wives and the starvation of your people than to risk starting a war.
It’s hard to say what’s more annoying about this film - its relentlessly negative view of humanity’s ability to handle crisis, or its vacuous moral stance suggesting violence is never the answer.
Thematically, “Blindness” is a mess. It tries to highlight the oneness of humanity by stripping characters of names and placing them in an anonymous country. Despite our false and foolish divisions - nationality, race, whatever - we’re all people, and we’re all in this together, “Blindness” suggests.
But that idea is negated by the “reality” of human nature revealed here: that once society breaks down, life will be nasty, brutish and short. Director Fernando Meirelles also makes a halfhearted attempt to draw a parallel between the outbreak of blindness and the war on terror - a parallel that serves little purpose and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Leaving the theme aside, the performances are uniformly impressive: Miss Moore and Mr. Ruffalo’s husband and wife pairing is entirely believable and sympathetic, while Gael Garcia Bernal’s portrayal of the sadistic King of Ward Three is chillingly perfect.
Visually, the film has a tic that is at first intriguing and very quickly turns annoying. Mr. Meirelles radically over- and underexposed the movie’s film stock, which means that the picture is either washed out or overly dark for the majority of its two-hour running time.
It’s an interesting effect - one that simulates both the “white blindness” afflicting the movie’s world, and real, blackout blindness - but one that quickly grows old and puts unnecessary strain on the eyes. Like the film’s thematic elements, the camera trickery comes off as unnecessarily pretentious, the sort of thing film students applaud while mainstream audiences yawn.
RATING: R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.
CREDITS: Directed by Fernando Meirelles
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
WEB SITE: www.blindness-themovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS