October 9, 2008

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Blindness (R)
All of humanity is walking around arms outstretched asking “who’s there” in Blindness, an entertaining brand of the apocalyptic thriller.

A guy (Yusuke Iseya) driving his car goes blind while waiting at an intersection. He sees a doctor (Mark Ruffalo), who wakes up the next morning to find he too has been struck with a white-light blindness. People they’ve talked to, touched, been near also go blind. Soon it seems everyone is going blind. Everyone except the doctor’s wife (Julianne Moore), who nonetheless feigns blindness when the health authorities come to take her husband to quarantine. She goes with him and, because of her sight, can help him to some degree in this hospital ward-like place where the newly blind pour in daily. But though she can sometimes get extra knowledge because of her sight — knowing how much food is left, knowing when a man’s cut becomes infected — it doesn’t mean that she can always do something about it. As the facility becomes more crowded, the worst instincts of humanity come out and when a neighboring ward decides to bully its fellow inmates Moore’s character has to decide how far she’s willing to go to stop them. Her possession of a special power doesn’t mean she gets her way, nor is it particularly good for her relationship with her husband, who is increasingly frustrated with the situation.

What the characters see and what we can see or not see at times becomes part of the visual language of the film. As time goes by, the people become dirtier (in some cases dirty and naked) and the facility becomes one giant bus station restroom. The grayness that clings to everything helps add to the hopelessness of the situation. During a few particularly violent scenes, Moore’s character and the audience are plunged into darkness, with only the sounds to make horror even more horrible. For a movie that’s all about the visual, Blindness does a good job of not being too showy with its visual effects.

What’s missing is the inner life of Moore’s character. There are a lot of whys about the things she does and even without specific answers some familiarity with her thought process would give the story another dimension. This seems like a result of the story’s translation from novel to film (though I should say I haven’t read the book). Watching the movie you get the sense that some of the texture for the story is missing.

This kind of apocalypse-type story is interesting. The world doesn’t technically end nor are people killed by some calamity. The calamity is how people react to a loss of a sense. The basic story idea is an excellent one and it’s executed well enough to make this an intriguing and disturbing what-if. B

Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity. Directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Don McKellar (from the novel by José Saramago), Blindness is two hours long and is distributed by Miramax Films.