Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blindness: Grade C

Blindness (2008)
Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal. Director Fernando Meirelles.

Inexplicably, people in a major modern city go instantly blind, one by one, until the whole city is blind. That’s the premise we must accept. Ruffalo is an ophthalmologist who examines a patient with the mysterious ailment, then “goes” himself. His wife, Moore, accompanies him to the quarantine, even though she remains sighted. Soon the quarantine is overcrowded, chaotic, filthy and surrounded by guard towers, so we have morphed from an allegory of social fear of biological pathogens, like an escaped virus or maybe HIV, to some sort of Holocaust metaphor.

Moore conceals her visual ability, for reasons unknown, and helps individuals and groups get somewhat organized. But the “bad” group gets hold of a gun, seizes the limited food supply and demands payment from the others for food. The dramatic situation could have been resolved in five minutes, since a gun is not that useful for a blind person, while sighted Moore could easily have overcome the lot of them. But instead the movie morphs into a Lord of the Flies theme to show the dark side of human nature. Finally someone thinks to check the front door, which is open and all the guards are gone and the city is empty of life except other starving and dying blind people. And so on. There is no resolution, no message, no point to the whole thing.

The strengths of the film include terrific (though terrifically bleak) cinematography, compelling acting from Moore, and some moments of insight. On the down side, the screenplay lacks any semblance of story arc or character development. Some scenes are thought-provoking, such as the realization that it makes no sense to segregate the genders for dressing and bathing, since everybody is blind. But in general, the movie is an insult to blind people, and over all nothing adds up. We could accept throwing reason to the wind for the sake of observing human behavior in a contrived crucible, but Lord of the Flies has already been done, so why do it again, badly?

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