Blindness

Blindness
2008, 121 mins, R, Canada
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenplay: Don McKellar, based on Jose Saramago’s novel (1995) by the same title.

It is not very often, very rare in fact, that I find myself disagreeing with Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert’s criticism of a film but here goes. He writes that Blindness  “is one of the most unpleasant, not to say unendurable, films I’ve ever seen. It is an allegory about a group of people who survive under great stress, but frankly I would rather have seen them perish than sit through the final three-quarters of the film” (Chicago Sun-Times, 2 Oct. 2008). This film begins as epidemic cinema and like many others in that (possible) genre it ends with a post-apocalyptic metropolis. And although I am besotted with the genre, I think the film rewards the viewer appropriately, given the horrors that unfold.

There is even a Patient Zero, a young Japanese man who starts an incredible traffic jam by going blind as he drives his car into an intersection. (He is also becomes the opposite of Patient Zero, but here I’m starting to get more cryptic than I should be, although Ford knows when you are in a dystopia don’t ignore the warning signs.) An ophthalmologist tries to treat him but goes blind himself, suggesting the possibility of contagion (although that issue is never really resolved).

The governmental response to the epidemic of blindness is predictable: shut the newly blind away, throw them some food over the wall, and shoot them if they get contrary. Add the usual rapacious, murderous thugs inevitable in this situation, and you have the prison from hell. One bright spot is the ophthalmologist’s wife (played by Julianne Moore) who retains her sight secretly to help her husband and the band of people in her ward. When viewers discuss the film as an allegory they get kind of stuck talking about her, since it is clear that blindness is not the ticket to inner peace or self-knowledge and that without her this band of survivors didn’t stand a chance.

This film has none of the scientific neatness of, say, The Andromeda Strain (either version). Films as diverse as The Omega Man and The Road (both, q.v.) all make it clear that the lowest common denominator of human being is but one short evolutionary step away from the CHUDs. This film is CHUDless in Toronto, however, a beautiful metropolis and common film location whose skirts get very dirty nonetheless.

Fernando Meirelles also directed The City of God (2002), a searing portrait of a Brazilian favela, and The Constant Gardener (2005), an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novelistic expose (by the same title) of Big Pharma’s exploitation of Africans for drug testing. I’m inclined to go with his tendency to experiment.

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