Synopsis: From acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) comes this extraordinarily intense and gritty thriller that will change your vision of the world forever. Led by a powerful all-star cast featuring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover, this unflinching story begins when a plague of blindness strikes and threatens all of humanity. One woman (Moore) feigns the illness to share an uncertain fate in quarantine, where society is breaking down as fast as their crumbling surroundings. Based on Nobel Prize-winning Jose Saramago’s novel – let Blindness lead you on a journey where the only thing more terrifying than being blind is being the only one who can see.
eyelights: its basic premise.
eyesores: its grandiose lapses in logic. its grotesque view of humanity.
“The only thing more terrifying than blindness is being the only one who can see.”
‘Blindness’ is a 2008 Canada-Brazil co-production based on ‘Ensaio sobre a Cegueira’ by José Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature. It tells the story of a group of people quarantined in a camp in the early days of an outbreak that is rendering humanity totally blind. It shows them trying to survive in isolation from the rest of society, with tensions growing inside the camp.
I first saw ‘Blindness’ in 2010 and was deeply offended by it. Although it wasn’t the worst movie I saw that year and wasn’t at the bottom of my Top 13 (from a technical standpoint, ‘Blindness’ is actually a well-crafted film), it was probably the one I liked the least of them all. In fact, it stirred such violent emotions in me that it remains a movie I firmly despise to this day.
I swore I would never ever see it again.
Lately, as I was watching all these dystopic motion pictures and television programmes of late (especially ‘The Colony‘, ‘Children of Men‘ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘), it brought back to mind that horrible movie. The setting was as oppressive and its view of humanity pessimistic. I felt that it fit in thematically, that it was nearly unavoidable. It would give me an opportunity to warn readers.
Interestingly, as I watched it this time, I had few concerns with it. Granted, the opening was needlessly abrupt, opening with a Japanese man suddenly going blind whilst in traffic, with no establishing of character and/or place. And, granted, none of the main characters are especially likeable. But I wasn’t hating it. I didn’t like it either, but I started to think that perhaps I’d misjudged it.
Then came the halfway mark.
By this point in the picture, all of the main characters are locked in together. Our two protagonists, played by Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore, lead their Ward and have influence over the others simply by virtue of having been the first there and having established a form of structure to the camp. But there is tension, with more people being packed in and food rations becoming scarce.
That’s when the self-proclaimed “King of Ward 3” decides to take control. Somehow, he has a gun. It is unknown how or why he has one, especially since they were all tossed into the camp by soldiers, who likely searched each one prior to their arrival, but he has a lone 6-shooter in his possession. This supposedly makes him powerful, even though he likely doesn’t have extra bullets for his gun.
Thus he decides that he will force all the other Ward members to give their valuables in exchange for food. He and his lot have taken all the rations somehow and people will need to barter to survive. No one does anything about it, even though a few discuss the fact that there are more of them and that he only has one gun. Nope, instead they all give in and give him everything that they own.
All of them.
This is pure bull!@#$. There would be dissent. Even if not everyone is strong-willed, some people are, and those people would either conspire to remove this bastard, would simply hold out, or would advise the soldiers outside the camp. Alternately, they would group together and find other ways to survive as a separate group. It is impossible that everyone would simply give in like that.
But ‘Blindness’ would have you believe that.
It isn’t even just the the fact that there’s more of them and that he only has the one gun. There’s also the matter that these people are isolated and, thus, have a finite amount of valuables to trade. This puts them in a very vulnerable position very quickly. It makes the choice very clear: they cannot give in, because doing so only brings short-term relief. Soon they would have nothing left.
Not even food.
Naturally, that’s exactly what happens. Duh. And guess what happens next? The men of Ward 3 ask for women in trade for food. ARGH!!! So obvious. Adding insult to injury, it’s a hetero-centric film that supposes that all the men there want women, so none of the men are at risk. And so the other Wards have to decide whether it’s acceptable to them that women have to prostitute themselves.
It’s f-ing offensive that it would even be considered, that it would even come to that, that no one had the foresight to know this was coming and that no one thinks about fighting back. Merely considering is a disquieting notion because it suggests that there isn’t a resourceful and/or dignified person amongst them. What passes for principles in ‘Blindness’ is the freedom to prostitute (or not) without judgement.
And so some of the women volunteer to prostitute themselves in exchange for food, something that was avoidable in the first place and still unnecessary at this time. They still don’t hold out. They relent. And we have to watch. We have to watch women being violated, hearing the moaning, the crying and watching the violence. Because, yes, some of the women are also beaten.
It is gratuitous and disgusting.
Again, my issue is that all of this is avoidable in the first place – thus, this means that the filmmakers contrived for us to see this degradation take place. Why would they want us to see this? Why would they find this so essential that they would ignore all logic just so that we could be subjected to such vile situations and images? What is the intention? What is the redeeming factor here?
Had it been an inescapable conclusion, it still would have been disturbing but at least it would have been credible. But it’s not.
The worst of it is that Julianne Moore plays a woman who can see, but sneaked into the camp with her spouse to take care of him. As someone with eyesight, she has access to information that the others don’t. And she can share it with her spouse, who leads the Ward and informs decision across the camp. By virtue of this alone, they have the upper hand; it would be easy to rid themselves of opposition.
But they don’t. They just allow everything to take place even though it would be easy to sneak into Ward 3 during the night and kill the “King”. Or take his gun (in fact, that no one even in Ward 3 has taken his gun away is beyond belief). And if they didn’t want to do it themselves, because it’s unpalatable to them, they could easily coax someone else to do it. After all, they can be coaxed to prostitute each other.
There is a point when our two leads discuss the value of human life and suggest that any death is one too many. But they don’t consider human dignity one bit and don’t consider that abuse of power will inevitably lead to death anyway. So they might as well cut to the chase and lose some people for the sake of avoiding the terror that they know the so-called “King” is about to subject them to.
Honestly, the rage I would feel at being blackmailed that way would be enough to make the obstinate and willful side of me fight back right from the start. And if it meant having to kill the bastard, I would. If you want to talk about survival, I don’t think lowering one’s self is the better option over death. As they say, better to die standing than living on your knees, right? ‘Blindness’ doesn’t even consider this.
The film doesn’t make sense on so many other levels, too. Why does Moore’s character do everything just because she can see, even pretending to be blind when it’s time to get rations? The blind people can get the bloody rations! They’re ALREADY blind! No need to pretend! And the guards shoot people who stray too close without warning them or using silencers (thereby causing great alarm in the camp).
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The list is endless, really: Julianne Moore’s character’s roots don’t grow even though they’re in the camp for weeks on end, she forgives her husband and a call girl for cheating on her spontaneously (there’s been no build-up in sexual tension at all), the call girl hooks up with a one-eyed Danny Glover (even though there’s nothing leading to it), and when they leave the camp, the gate is easily unchained.
And so forth and so on until the picture’s happy ending. Because, yes, somehow, the god-damned movie has a happy ending.
‘Blindness’ is such a stupid and vile story it’s a wonder that some people thought it was worth making into a motion picture. It insults the audience’s intelligence, it asks people to accept all manners of gross inhumanity in contexts that don’t make sense and it has no discernible message to make or redeemable characters to hold on to. At best, one could say it’s well-made garbage. But garbage nonetheless.
This is not a movie to turn a blind eye to. It’s a movie to avoid simply out of good taste.
Date of viewing: April 6, 2015