'Blindness': Groping For Help In A World Gone White

Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo i

Things not seen: A suddenly blinded man (Mark Ruffalo) and his still-sighted wife (Julianne Moore) battle an increasingly anarchic quarantine crowd in Blindness. Ken Woroner/Miramax Films hide caption

itoggle caption Ken Woroner/Miramax Films
Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo

Things not seen: A suddenly blinded man (Mark Ruffalo) and his still-sighted wife (Julianne Moore) battle an increasingly anarchic quarantine crowd in Blindness.

Ken Woroner/Miramax Films

Blindness

  • Director: Fernando Meirelles
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity.

Gael Garcia Bernal i

Blind ambition: Abandoned in lockup by the authorities, the vision-challenged quarantined find themselves at the mercy of a bully ex-bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal). Ken Woroner/Miramax Films hide caption

itoggle caption Ken Woroner/Miramax Films
Gael Garcia Bernal

Blind ambition: Abandoned in lockup by the authorities, the vision-challenged quarantined find themselves at the mercy of a bully ex-bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal).

Ken Woroner/Miramax Films

Fernando Meirelles begins his bleak fantasy Blindness with a driver who inexplicably loses his sight in the instant it takes a traffic light to turn from red to green.

Shortly thereafter, a stranger who drives the man home (and then steals his car) is himself struck blind; so is the first driver's wife, and the taxi driver who takes the two of them to an optometrist (who finds nothing wrong). Also the optometrist, and all his patients, and almost everyone any of them comes into even glancing contact with. Pretty quickly, it's a pandemic.

The optometrist's wife (Julianne Moore), however, does not go blind, and in order to care for her husband (Mark Ruffalo), she accompanies him into government-ordered quarantine, keeping her sightedness a secret for reasons best known to the author. This has the effect of offering audiences a window on what's happening, but proves problematic as a plot point.

Sequestered in a decrepit, heavily guarded hospital-like facility, these early victims are left to govern themselves as the plague spreads outside the walls, at which point civilization inside gets shunted aside about as quickly as it does in Lord of the Flies. The descent into barbarism — hallways fouled by human waste, cruelty 'round every corner — is both the device and the point of the source material, a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago.

But novels and screenplays work differently, and by the time an obstreperous former bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal) is declaring himself King of Ward 3 and forcing hungry prisoners to trade sex for food, you'll be wondering why Moore, who still hasn't revealed her ability to see, doesn't just walk up behind him and club him over the head. If it's true that in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, then the two-eyed woman should be empress, no?

Well, not in Blindness' realm, for reasons that feel more authorial and directorial than rational. That said, Moore is always watchable, Ruffalo and Bernal get a nice rivalry going without ever establishing eye contact (as it were), and Danny Glover has some nice moments in an underdeveloped part as an older man who finds, to his benefit, that love is blind.

There's also the neat cinematic conceit that conveys the "white blindness" that afflicts these folks — they're plunged not into darkness but into its opposite, their vision blotted out by light flooding the screen. The director deploys that brightness in some of the same creepy ways that horror directors use darkness, cutting to gleaming white floors and harsh white clouds to eerie effect.

The device so intrigues him, in fact, that he builds scenes and transitions around it, devoting his filmmaking energies to making the visual conceit work — sometimes to the exclusion of elements (narrative, say, and character) that seem to interest him less.

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