A doctor's wife becomes the only person with the ability to see in a town where everyone is struck with a mysterious case of sudden blindness. She feigns illness in order to take care of her husband as her surrounding community breaks down into chaos and disorder. Based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago.
A nasty, gritty parable about leadership and the chaos that results from the lack of clear vision, Blindness wears its politics on its sleeve, with morals too overt to register any meaningful impact.
In an unnamed city, an unnamed man loses his ability to see at the worst possible moment (which is not to suggest that there’s ever a good time): he’s behind the wheel of a car, perched at a busy intersection. When the lights change, his sight goes with them, and he is overcome by an unending vision of white.
At first his affliction seems a freak accident, but when it spreads to those with whom he makes contact, including his opthamologist (Mark Ruffalo) and all those in the doctor’s waiting room, the pandemic prompts a swift tactical response from authorities.
The newly blind are packed up and frogmarched to a disused asylum, their only link to the outside world a voicemail-only 'emergency’ hotline, an equally unhelpful instructional video played on a loop, and several jittery armoured guards.
The doctor’s wine-swilling, cake-baking wife (Julianne Moore), who is also a medico, accompanies her husband to the asylum while she still has her sight but expects to lose it. She duly plays the waiting game; afraid to close her eyes for fear of opening them to nothing, but she proves to be immune to the blindness. She keeps her vision a secret from all but her husband and in a shake-up to their power relationship, she takes the lead by helping him adjust to his newfound disability.
Soon the numbers of the newly blind swell beyond the asylum’s capacity, and the suspect sanitary conditions degenerate even further, making the halls a biohazard. People start sliding in miscellaneous filth; and they’re forever hitting their heads on low-hanging beams, knocking their knees on the sea of stretcher beds, their flailing arms clocking others who don’t know to get out of the way. In these execrable conditions, the advantage of sight soon becomes a curse. And it’s not so pretty for the viewer, either.
In a Lord of the Flies-like development, the dire conditions and total abandonment by sighted society fuel a spirit of protectionism, personified by an opportunistic and ruthless bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal). He exemplifies humanity’s worst traits, enforcing mob rule and dishing out food in exchange for valuables and sexual favours.
Meirelles is a stylish and exciting filmmaker; his City of God was a frenzied revelation about the lives of Brazil’s dispossessed and The Constant Gardener wove a stylish web around a complex plot to make the film rise above a conventional political thriller. A similar attempt to marry style with substance is at play in Blindness. The film stock has undergone all manner of stresses in the post suite, in a bid to emulate the unpredictable visuals of the condition, likened to a 'sea of milk" by those afflicted. And the soundtrack too, is an assault on the senses, with thunderous drum beats and strange noises compounding the sense of disorientation.
However, in serving up the cursory warning about the dangers inherent in the 'Blind leading the blind’, the message is diluted by its lack of subtlety. The political analogy is pretty clear, without need for jaw-droppingly obvious dialogue of the 'We’re so lucky to have a leader with vision" kind.
Nobel Prize winning author Jose Saramago was famously reluctant to have his 1995 novel adapted for the screen, and given the end result, perhaps he needn\'t have relented.