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Friday, January 16, 2009

Blindness (2008)

Blindness 00

Director Fernando Meirelles reached critical fame with his film City of God (2002) and his career had continued brilliantly with the film adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel The Constant Gardener (2005). Now, based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago and a screenplay written by Canada’s Don McKellar, Blindness, Fernando Meirelles' latest film is a film I hated the longer it went on screen.

I issue a spoiler warning right now.

A Japanese man turns blind while awaiting a green light at a cross-walk. Then, a random pedestrian (Don McKellar), kindly gets into the Japanese man’s car and drives him to his home. But after the drop off he steals the Japanese man’s car. The Japanese man, then decides to see an optometrist, played by Mark Ruffalo, regarding his recent loss of vision.

*Note* usually when one goes blind it means that one ceases to be able to see, therefore nothing is seen but darkness. But the Japanese man sees all white. *wink wink*

The blindness, apparently, is infectious and therefore the car thief, the Japanese man’s wife, the optometrist and his wife (Julianne Moore), and all the rest of the patients in the optometry clinic, who’d come in contact with one another at one point all turn blind, as well. So far so good.

A quarantine is then issued in the city. Those suffering from the recent epidemic of magical blindness pack their bags and are dropped off at a vacant prison. The optometrist’s wife, however can still see. Her character is the only character in the film that’s still able to see because from that moment on she becomes the audience’s eyes and ears. But there’s also a big problem with that type of storytelling which is that because she doesn’t seem to be in every scene throughout the entirety of the film, her relevance drops down almost to zero. Her character technically doesn’t exist. I hadn’t read the novel but I guarantee that in it she’s either also blind or she doesn’t exist.

In the prison, no one attends to the “prisoners” (I will use this term from now on), for fear of spreading the infection to other doctors and military personnel that they might come in contact with. And because everyone in the prison is blind, they no longer care about their appearances and half of the prisoners waltz around in the buff, defecate, and urinate in every available corner and at all times.

The Doctor (actually billed as Doctor) and his wife keep their little secret to themselves because if they were to reveal it to the others and to, God forbid, those in charge they might be able to find a cure; or not. I’m not a wizard and I didn’t create this magic form of blindness.

Time moves slowly and more prisoners are loaded into the facility until all three wards are occupied. In comes The Bartender, played with terrific conviction by Gael Garcia Bernal. He hears from Doctor (Ruffalo) that they take turns burying the corpses that pile up outside in their ward. Bartender objects to Doctor being the boss of the ward and as he pulls out a gun he decrees monarchy on the entire prison.

Now here’s where I began to hate the film.

Everybody in Ward 3 automatically agrees with everything that Bartender has to say and he rules the prison with an iron fist. He confiscates food from the entire prison and sells it back to Ward 1 for whatever objects they’re carrying. And after all the money and jewelry is disbursed another week goes by, but the prisoners must eventually eat. So Bartender decides to borrow a few women for a single evening. That evening, nine women are raped and another is killed.

Where is Julianne Moore in all this? Well, she just sits back and watches everything come down hard for fear that her sense of sight will be discovered, which, again doesn’t make sense because the prisoners can definitely use her ability to see in a positive manner.

Oh, Bartender also rapes her, which in turn makes them mortal enemies.

Moore eventually stabs Bartender in the neck with a pair of scissors and a giant war is raged between Wards 1 and 3 (whatever happened to ward 2?) Also a fire erupts at one point and the film goes bonkers even further.

But something crucial happens in the end which dictates to the audience that the premise of the film is that “the blindness is an allegory for human beings' innate moral blindness, the capacity for prejudice, selfishness, violence and willful indifference due to the inability to share another's point of view”. My take on the premise of the film is that “white” is purity in and of itself. An act of God grants one man the ability to “truly see” and it infects others because everyone has the potential to be good. In turn, we lose faith in ourselves and in others.

The aforementioned details a great idea for a potentially great story or film and I believe that the book spoke of it, but I could not find that allegory within this film and I don’t see why the blindness had eventually wore off because the film’s main characters do not become better people; some remain the same and most others become even worse people, but mostly they choose to live as blind people and accept who they have become.

I did not enjoy the story’s concept or the film’s cinematography and I grew restless and annoyed as it went on because the characters depicted in this film don’t act like real people would. They choose to be disorganized and lazy and when a single man’s decided to rule them all with an iron fist (or in this case a gun) they simply give up.

Many others have tried to convince me that ‘this is only a movie and that movies do not mirror real life’ and I agree with that entirely. Even documentaries are just media inspired representations of others’ interpretations; they’re edited fictionalized accounts that are based on non-fictional stories, concepts, and personalities. Realism and reality are like bananas and radios: one’s a food and the other is an electronic device and they have nothing in common except that everybody knows what they are and what they’re designed for. When a screenplay causes audiences to think, dialogue is riddled with metaphors, and the happenings are visually symbolic, the screenplay presents to the audience recognizable traits that are found in us all and teaches us lessons that make sense. In many films the representation is accurate. But I hate this film because it stamps ideals that are wrong and presumes to know what the human condition really is all about. So, to those who read this review I recommend you watch the classic The Human Condition trilogy.

Let’s hope that Fernando Meirelles picks up a better script next time.

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