In what is an undisclosed city in maybe a near future time period, traffic is stopped as one young man is in his car and all of a sudden finds that he cannot see. This incident begins a chain reaction of events leading to all who come into contact with the young man also getting the affliction. When the eye doctor who has been working with him comes under with the disease, that’s when a movement is begun to quarantine those afflicted. The doctor’s wife, who herself isn’t blind, feigns being blind to be with her husband. Both are brought to a center where they and the few others that are with them are left to fend for themselves within their ward. And from there, events multiply, literally sending the world into chaos.
And that’s the premise of Blindness the new movie from director Fernando Meirelles, who previously gave us the movies, The Constant Gardener (haven’t seen it) and City of God (I have seen this one and it’s one hell of a movie). I was sorta hoping that this movie would be what M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening wasn’t, but instead it devolves to what seems more like contrived film school third world allegory that asks you to swallow a lot in order to follow it.
Where this falls apart is in the idea of the quarantine, because basically these people are thrown into this building with literally no one to watch out for them, other than the military standing guard making certain that no one gets out. It just out and out ignores the idea that these people would be in reality under a microscope to figure out what was causing this, especially as the blindness continues to escalate. Later in the film, another character is brought into the ward who begins to explain what is happening in the outside world, and how the process of investigating the source has broken down, but unfortunately, this process feels like something tacked on later (and according to reports of some re-shoots after an exhibition in Cannes, it very well could be) as an afterthought, but not the point that the director is trying to make.
And that point is basically all it takes is one event to send people who have comfortable lives into a life of utter squalor. Now really, I don’t have a problem with this being the point of the film, it’s just that getting there is incredibly contrived. And through it all, one woman, the doctor’s wife, still has the ability to see, which she’s hiding from everyone, except her husband, and due to the script, she does things that a sighted person just wouldn’t do in this situation.
Meirelles has a good cast at work here, including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal and Alice Braga and they certainly do what’s asked of them, but as I said above, what’s asked is horribly contrived.
This isn’t a movie for the faint-hearted as there is a lot of unpleasantness here- specifically around scenes within the ward- so consider that a warning if you’re planning to see it. The thing is, I’d almost expect that most might be more tempted to walk out halfway through it, I know I certainly was, and not due to it’s unpleasantness, but more to it’s contrived and forced quality to shove a message down my throat. I give Meirelles credit though for a well done first quarter of the film as the outbreak is happening, with some inventive and stylistic camera work, and also by it’s quality there’s really nothing out there quite like this right now. But at the same time, it just doesn’t hold up, and I tend to think that if you want to see something like this that explores some of the same themes, but played out better, maybe re-watching Children of Men is the way to go, or an even better playing out of these themes in Oliver Hershberger’s excellent film The Experiment. Right now, the only way I could even want to see this one again would be just to play Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with it. Not as bad as The Happening but damn near close and certainly outweighing it on the pretentious side…