If you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be? The most common answer is usually the sense of smell, with taste following a close second. Sight tends to be the one thing people want to hold onto the most. Yet would people still hold onto it if the entire world were to go blind? Without being able to see, would we view the world in the same way? Would we still covet such things as Iphones? Would physical attraction still be a major component in relationships? Would we still pay obscene amounts of money for name brand clothing and accessories? Would the pursuit of commerce still trump the pursuit of art? Who would decide what value certain items hold? Would a car still be a sign of status? Who would enforce the laws? Would our current laws and social structures even exist anymore? Worst of all, what if the entire world were to go blind and you are the only person left who could see! How would you cope?
Theses are the questions that simmer underneath Fernando Meirelles’ film, Blindness. Bleak and thought provoking all at the same time, Blindness looks at how the world would cope with a sudden outbreak of widespread blindness. Instead of the traditional darkness that is associated with blindness, the “infected” endure a white light when they lose their vision. Julianne Moore plays the wife of a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who is somehow immune to the disease. As the epidemic begins to grow the government decides to quarantine all those affected. Longing to stay by her husband’s side, Moore does not let on that she can see and is locked away in a hospital-style complex. As the cases of blindness spread, the quarantined building becomes overpopulated and three distinct wards emerge. Left to fend for themselves, a struggle quickly emerges between those who wish to maintain a certain level of structure and those, such as the King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), who want to make their own rules. As tensions rise, Moore quickly realizes that seeing the darkness in mankind is a tougher burden to bear than not seeing at all.
I wanted to love this film. I mean I really wanted to. It had all the ingredients for a seemingly delicious dish. Director Fernando Meirelles previous two films, City of God and The Constant Gardner, both made my top ten lists in the respective years they came out. The international cast featured a strong pedigree of talent (e.g. Moore, Ruffalo, Bernal, Danny Glover, Don Mckellar, Yusuke Iseya, etc.) that could handle such weighty material. Yet ultimately I found myself I a little unsatisfied with the meal. Leaving me ultimately on the fence regarding the whole production. I loved the concept, and found that the film affected me on several levels. Yet the latter half of the film left me feeling empty. The films focuses so much on the quarantined segment that it felt like Meirelles had to tack on a lot of stuff near to end in order to arrive at the ending that is vaguely optimistic. This is not to say I wanted a joyful ending. On the contrary, I would have loved for the film to have a far more unsettling and ambiguous ending. Especially after Meirelles takes us down such a dark and animalistic path. Yet if Meirelles really wanted to include the stuff outside the complex, he should have cut down some of the quarantined sequences.
The ending excluded, there are lots of elements to the film that will keep you captivated…and disturbed. I like that the film never delves into what causes the blindness. To be honest, you could substitute the current financial crisis or any disease and the results would still be the same. This is a film that looks at how easily society can crumble when faced with both a national and global crisis. What really stands out about the film are the choices that Moore makes at every juncture. Whether she is playing the role of an observer, or is forced into action, you cannot help but ponder her decisions. Would you handle the situation in the same way? The film is constantly showing that having sight is a far greater disadvantage, as you are forced to watch society decay. At times Blindness shows glimpses of brilliance; at others the film is frustrating beyond belief. Is it worth picking up the next time you are at your local video store? Yes. If anything you will want to watch it twice before returning it just to let the good and bad parts sink in. Although it will definitely provide good food for discussion, do not expect a completely satisfying meal.