Two and a half stars (R)
Blindness had me in the beginning, lost me in the middle and kind of got me back near the end. The premise of the film — what if humanity went blind, except for one woman — was intriguing. I was encouraged by the fact that the adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s celebrated 1995 novel was directed by Fernando Meirelles, who helmed The Constant Gardener and the remarkable City of God.
The city in which the story is set is never identified. In fact, the production was shot in several cities and distinctive buildings in the backgrounds were digitally rearranged to keep the location anonymous. We never hear the name of any of the characters, either. Saramago played it that way in the book and Meirelles remains faithful to the device.
It begins when Patient Zero (Yusuke Iseya) abruptly goes blind. A visit with the doctor (Mark Ruffalo) offers no explanation — the doc explains to the man and his wife (Yoshino Kimura) that he can find nothing wrong with the man’s eyes, and that he’s never heard of any form of blindness where everything goes white instead of black.
Long story short — soon the man’s wife, others from the doctor’s office and the doctor himself are afflicted with the “white sickness,” which spreads to the general population quickly. However, the doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore) is unaffected. When the government starts carting the blind off to quarantine wards, she insists on joining her husband.
So far, so good. I liked not knowing the name of the city and didn’t even notice the lack of character names. At first, watching Julianne Moore’s character try to help her fellow captives while hiding her ability to see was fascinating. The patients include Alice Braga, Maury Chaykin and Danny Glover, by the way, and Sandra Oh makes a cameo appearance.
Then we hit the mid-section. A man from another ward in the facility shows up with a gun. The self-proclaimed King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal) announces that his ward has taken control of the government food drops and will require payment for food. Once the money and jewelry are handed over, guess what they want next? How trite. How boring.
We dutifully trudge through the nightmare along with the poor, miserable blind people. I’ve seen this king of stuff many times before and Meirelles’ stylized camera work can’t make it feel original. In fact, his heavy-on-the-white technique plays like an overlong homage to THX 1138.
Eventually, several of the main characters end up back in the outside world: a standard issue, but nonetheless convincing, post-apocalyptic cityscape. Can’t discuss the wrap-up of the film; suffice to say it’s an improvement, but not enough to make up for the saggy middle.
I haven’t addressed the various allegories one could draw from the film and won’t do so here. There are plenty of recent examples of what happens when governments fail to take care of their own, societies crumble, and the nakedness beneath our personal veneers of refinement is exposed. As an object lesson, Blindness pales in comparison to real life. As a sorta post-apocalyptic thriller, it has its moments.