Director Fernando Meirelles follows up his acclaimed film, “The Constant Gardner” with Don McKellar’s screen adaptation of José Saramago’s novel, “Blindness”. Focusing on a group of people who are brought together by a sudden onset of blindness, “Blindness” doesn’t take any time jumping into the story. The film opens with First Blind Man (the characters remain nameless and are instead identified by their role in the film) suddenly losing his sight while stopped at a traffic light. He describes the blindness like “swimming thru milk”. Meirelles does a fantastic job capturing what the blindness looks like, and throughout the film he continues to use it as a reminder of how the characters see - or don’t see - the world around them.
First Blind Man (Yusuke Iseya) goes to visit Doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who examines his eyes, but finds nothing wrong. Later that night, Doctor is at home telling his wife - appropriately named Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore) - about the unusual occurrence. This is one of the more interesting scenes because it has the doctor and his wife talking to each other about the same subject, but clearly they’re not truly connecting with one another. It’s almost as if they’re talking around each other, or having a conversation with themselves. This is especially interesting because it sets up room for change when they’re confronted head on with the blindness and are forced to listen to each other and the others who are stricken with the unusual phenomenon.
Doctor is one the next people to go blind, and panic starts soon after as more people quickly go blind. Not knowing what to do with the people who’ve gone blind (or why they’ve gone blind), the government quarantines them all in an old prison. Doctor prepares himself to go to the prison to wait for news on the blindness, and his wife decides she’s going with him. The only issue is - Doctor’s Wife isn’t blind. She fakes being blind just so she can stay by his side and ultimately becomes the eyes for both her husband and a group of others in the same situation.
When the couple arrive at the prison, there’s no one else there. Shortly after, a group of connected strangers start arriving: First Blind Man arrives, along with two of Doctor’s patients, Woman with the Dark Glasses (Alice Braga) and Boy (Mitchell Nye). Thief (Don McKellar) - who helped First Blind Man and then stole his car - also shows up along with First Blind Man’s Wife (Yoshino Kimura) and another patient called Man with the Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover). The group quickly start to learn their way around the prison with the help of Doctor’s Wife, who keeps her ability to see a secret.
All of this takes place near the very beginning of the film and as the story progresses, it’s clear that “Blindness” isn’t a science fiction film about a mysterious occurrence, or even a thriller set to shock and scare (though there are some shocking moments that are more horrific than intricate plot twists). “Blindness” keeps the story interesting as more and more people become struck by the blindness and are sent to the prison where they’re left to fend for themselves because no one with vision is willing to show them around or even be near them.
The film’s first half focuses on Doctor’s Wife experience as the only person who can see and her reactions to the horrible conditions around her. With a lack of food, and no real guidance on where to use the restrooms or bathe, the prison quickly becomes filthy and people become sick. Julianne Moore’s reactions here are crucial to the film, as they help carry the emotion of the world around her. It’s obvious that Moore is an exceptional actress, and “Blindness” puts her skills to great use as she’s required to react without vocalizing her horror in order to hide her secret. And without anyone, even her husband, being able to witness her expressions, it’s especially interesting to witness her change from the beginning of the film to the end.
The people of the prison have to form their own society and the film focuses on how their laws, and the laws of human nature, are achieved and broken. Conflict is introduced when more people are quarantined. Bartender, who quickly becomes King of Ward Three (Gael García Bernal), is the first to cause trouble in the prison. He and the rest of the men in his ward decide to take over the prison by using a gun to get their way. They ration the food for jewelry and eventually women (which is one of the more horrific and saddening scenes) in order to obtain control. Doctor’s Wife has to take it upon herself to regain control not only of her own life, but the life of the people she feels responsible for. The last quarter of the film takes an interesting turn.
At two hours, “Blindness” did have moments that could have been cut back for more momentum, however some scenes that linger with cinematic shots that were more like moving photography than like watching an average film were worth the time. Again, Meirelles teams up with Cinematographer César Charlone (“Constant Gardner”) to offer a visually stunning film with incredible angles and atmospheric moodiness that truly makes “Blindness” work as well as it does.
While “Blindness” did have moments that were incredibly difficult to watch, the characters remained captivating and true throughout. The way the quarantined people try to create a new life for themselves with rules, as well as how that can easily be destroyed by one group’s need for power, is especially interesting. The changes the characters make and the bonds some of them form is also what makes “Blindness” such an interesting film.
While it wasn’t the best film of the year, it certainly offered more than I was expecting. “Blindness” is an usual film that doesn’t always offer answers, which can be upsetting if you need to have everything explained and reasons behind everything that occurs in a film. Despite some more unsettling things in the film, “Blindness” is a very good effort from Meirelles who proves once again that he knows how to tell troubling stories with a strong (and often coldly beautiful in this case) visual style.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Miramax. The presentation quality is generally very good; while the picture has what appears to be a somewhat soft appearance by intent, the picture still appeared consistent and while not crystal clear, often appeared at least crisp. No edge enhancement was seen, nor were any instances of pixelation. While some mild film grain was seen throughout the show, this also seemed to be an intentional element of the cinematography. The film's bleak, stark color palette looked accurately presented, as well.
SOUND: "Blindness" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While this was largely a dialogue-driven feature, the film did use the surrounds a moderate amount in order offer ambience and other sound effects. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp dialogue, well-recorded effects and occasional instances of deep bass. Although not terribly aggressive, the film's sound mix certainly did take advantage of opportunities given by the material.
EXTRAS: There are 5 Deleted Scenes with a written introduction that offers some insight as to why they were deleted. While none of them really add much to the film, there is a scene that offered a different location where The Doctor went blind, which is especially interesting given the reason it was deleted. Worth a look.
“A Vision Of Blindness” is an hour long documentary (broken down into 25 chapters) that takes a look at nearly every aspect of making the film. Interviews with novelist José Saramago and Director Meirelles are especially interesting here. They offer their take on the process of turning the book into a film, and even what it took for Saramago to hand over the rights to his novel. There’s a great part at the end that shows Saramago’s reaction to the film once he’s seen it. With details about the sets, as well as the process the actors went through in order to understand (as best they could) what it might feel like to be blind, there’s plenty here to fascinate fans of the film and those involved. At 1 hour, the feature feels like just enough information and is a fantastic look at the making of “Blindness”.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”
“Confessions of a Shopaholic”
“Miracle at St. Anna”
Final Thoughts: A touching and occasionally powerful thought-provoking drama, "Blindness" is a tad long, but the performances are generally very good. The DVD offers solid audio/video quality, as well as a few extras. Recommended.
The Film B-