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[MOVIE] Blindness Review


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Part 1 of Moriarty's Reviews


My heftiest expectations were for BLINDNESS, and it’s taken me a while to work out my feelings about this film. I was a huge fan of CITY OF GOD and THE CONSTANT GARDENER, and I heard only great things about the novel by Jose Saramago, especially with director Fernando Mierelles working with Don McKellar, whose screenplays include CHILDSTAR, THE RED VIOLIN, the end-of-the-world drama LAST NIGHT, and the frankly amazing THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD. That’s a hell of a pedigree behind the camera, plus Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Yusuke Iseya among others in the cast. BLINDNESS looks like an easy grand slam on paper. But I found myself making excuses for it after I saw it. Wanting to like it more than I did. As I’ve mulled it over in the weeks since seeing it, it’s really settled in, this nagging realization: it’s terrible. And that realization is a crushing disappointment, all things considered.


If you’ve seen the TV spots or, even worse, heard the radio ads for this film, you’ve been sold a bill of goods. They’re selling it like a thriller about an epidemic with some big government vs. our heroes plot like CHILDREN OF MEN. Uhhhhh... no. I’m not basing my disappointment on the ad campaign, either, but rathing noting how inaccurate it is. It’s like Miramax realizes that they can’t sell what they’ve got, so they figure that if they lie reeeeal hard, they’ll at least have a weekend of potential earning.


My first problem with the film, and perhaps the most insurmountable issue, is that this material is just plain hackneyed at this point. How many times can we see someone regurgitate the Stanford Prison Experiment in fictional form, this LORD OF THE FLIES microcosm that has been done and redone and redone and redone. Can we just accept it as a given that, under extreme duress, groups of people play out these same power dynamics again and again and again?


What really shocked me is that Mierelles, a gifted filmmaker who was able to create immersive emotional experiences with his first two films, completely misses the mark with this one. This is a film where the viewer’s left completely on the outside of the experience. It’s not horrific or agonizing or engrossing... it’s more dreary and oppressive and just plain gross. It strains for deeper meaning at every turn, and struggles to find something new to say with the metaphor of blindness. Of course, Mierelles isn’t completely to blame. The screenplay by McKellar just plain doesn’t work, which is odd. LAST NIGHT was made for probably 1/10th of the budget of this film, but it managed to say more about the way people behave in the face of societal collapse than this movie does, and without resorting to a preposterous overreaching central conceit like everyone suddenly and mysteriously going blind.


There are moments early on where it works. The first ten or fifteen minutes paint a decent picture of banal dread, slowly mounting as we see the viral chain of custody play out, one person after another stricken blind in a matter of moments. This is an ensemble film, but if there are any characters you could call the leads, it would be The Doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and the Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore). He’s an opthamologist, and his office becomes a major flashpoint for spreading the blindness, as many of his patients are afflicted before, finally, he wakes up blind himself.


People are immediately rounded up and whisked away from population centers in an effort to keep the disease in check, and Moore makes an impulsive decision when she sees how they’re handling her husband. “Take me, too,” she says. “I’ve just gone blind. I can’t see.” The men in the HAZMAT suits aren’t interested in arguing. They’re too freaked out, and as a result, Moore ends up in a converted hospital with her husband, a building that has become a prison for all of the sick. And as it fills up, conditions get worse and worse. The people, suddenly robbed of a sense they’ve relied on their whole lives, devolve into squalor and chaos fairly quickly, and Moore has to play nursemaid to her husband, even as she feels him pulling away from her, driven by his shame at his condition. Nobody in the film gets a name. They’re painting in broad archetype here, with the obvious point being that a situation like this is an equalizer, forcing people who might never meet to have to depend on each other for survival. The hospital is divided up into wards, and gradually, power games start to play out as one of the wards decides that they’re not going to co-exist any longer. Gael Garcia Bernal plays a truly loathsome little man, a shameless opportunist who keeps escalating the situation until Mierelles treats the audience to a nightmarish rape montage that drove several people from the screening I attended.


If I thought all of the misery and the shit and the suffering added up to something, I’d be more willing to take the ride. There was a film I saw at Fantastic Fest called EX-DRUMMER that was morally repulsive in an almost gleeful way, but there was a point to it, and there was so much raw energy and skill to the filmmaking that I set aside my own gag reflex while judging it. With BLINDNESS, the film knows how to provoke certain reactions, but the characters are such ciphers and the drama is so blatantly symbolic with no semblance of real life that I can’t get past the surface. Technically, the film is slick, but it’s inert. More than anything, this one frustrates because it represents a real setback for a filmmaker who seemed to be so promising, so boundlessly inventive, with his first few movies. Here’s hoping this is a mere speed bump, and that his next film wipes away the memory of this one.



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