Blindess (***1/2) is a tough sit. Directed by the extremely talented Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), the film, which is based on the novel by Jose Saramago, is a harrowing look at the human condition in a time of great stress and uncertainty. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, and Alice Braga, Blindness is set in an unnamed city populated by characters whose names are never given. One day, seemingly at random, a mass epidemic of human blindness breaks out. Ruffalo, an eye doctor, loses his sight after treating a patient who lost his vision a day earlier; before long, hundreds of people are afflicted. Nobody knows why. Nothing can be done. The government rounds up the newly-blind and sends them to an abandoned prison, quarantining them until a solution can be figured out. The twist is that Moore's character (who is Ruffalo's wife) hasn’t lost her sight; she lies to the authorities so that she can stay by her husband's side. Once inside of the prison, factions are created, and people get restless and rowdy. Food rations are stolen and fought over; some of the nastier people demand sexual favors from the women in return for food, in the film's most repellent sequence. Then, an escape is mounted, and some of the sick are able to leave the prison, only to find a strange new world waiting for them on the outside.
Blindness is a film that you're more likely to respect than outright love. I was blown away by Meirelles first two films; they are both masterworks in my opinion. Blindness is a challenging film on multiple levels, and its ambition sometimes exceeds its grasp. First, it demands that you ask yourself tough and hard-to-answer questions while watching it. Because the film is so subjective in its point of view, it’s hard not to project yourself into the narrative and think about what you'd do if you were in this scary situation. The film feels like a thematic cousin to Alfonso Cuaron's riveting Children of Men, and if Blindess isn't as accomplished overall as that film was, it definitely creates a near-future world that feels punishingly real. It's an extra-stylish film, with highly atmospheric and impressionistic cinematography from regular Meirelles collaborator Caesar Chalone. This is an art film starring some familiar Hollywood faces, and as such, there is a curious vibe to much of the production. The amazing production design convincingly creates a gritty, nasty world; as end-of-the-world scenarios go, Blindess has the look and feel of one of the best. There is a desperate quality to the film that is inherently interesting, and while some people may feel that Blindess is too much of one thing, I admire the filmmakers for their tenacity in telling this hard-to-watch story. However, I felt that the film could have been a little longer, a little more patient with its story. There were a few moments where more dialogue would have helped. Having not read the book, I'm not sure what (if anything) was left out. But what I do know, as a result of watching the excellent behind the scenes doc on the DVD, is that Saramago was very happy with the film version of his original creation. While not reaching the dizzying highs of either City of God or The Constant Gardener, Blindess is yet another provocative and arresting piece of work from Meirelles, who is rapidly emerging as one of the best and most important cinematic voices working today. This is a brutal, demanding film, but it's worth your time.