Blindness (2008) dir. Fernando Mereilles
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Don McKellar, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Alice Braga
“Blindness” is a mixed bag of intriguing high concept intellectual ideas and thriller genre cliches. Unfortunately it’s an oil and water concoction. What’s frustrating is that both elements could have worked with a seemingly simple idiot check somewhere in the script stage. A couple of massive plot holes drown the entire second act and the film only barely emerges for air in the finale to save itself.
At a busy intersection a Japanese man (Yusuke Iseya) stops his car causing a massive logjam. For some reason he can’t see. He’s gone blind, but not darkness, a total blanket of whiteness with nothing visible. A kindly eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) examines him, but can’t find anything wrong. One by one more citizens experience the same affliction. Fearing a contagious infection, the government quarantines these individuals in an abandoned asylum. Among them are the Japanese man, his wife (Yoshino Kimura), a Brazilian prostitute (Alice Braga), a cheap petty thief (Don McKellar), an elder eye-patched black man (Danny Glover) and the kindly eye doctor and his wife (Julianne Moore). Inexplicably Moore’s character is the only one who can see, but she pretends to be afflicted so she can stay with her husband and help him through the trouble.
Once in the asylum, more people get interned. The government suddenly turns extremely hostile and violent towards them like lepers from the Middle Ages. This hostility bleeds into the asylum as the group becomes divided before an all out war for food begins with “Lord of the Lord Flies”-like dehumanization. The doctor’s wife who can see is the only one who can put a stop to the madness, but it means breaking down to the level of the dehumanized to achieve peace and resolution.
Mereilles crafts a stunner of an opening act. He sets up the scenario of a society gradually going blind with frightening real world paranoia. The film is in a unique artistic thriller mode. Don McKellar’s sharp dialogue draws us in as much as the characters are trying to figure out what’s going on.
Mereilles’ right hand man behind the camera is Cesar Charlone who shot of “City of God” and “The Constant Gardner”. A welcomed change is a concerted shift away from the hand-held grainy trend he helped start for a locked down pristine sharp look. Charlone covers the film with over-exposed whiteness to compliment the point of view of the infected. Surprisingly the extremity of the stylization never gets in the way of the story.
One of the subtle themes in the film is the worldly everywhere and nowhere location. The film is a three-way co-production, with over a dozen producers and a multi-national cast. Parts of Toronto, Sao Paulo, and Montevideo, Uruguay were used to create the unnamed city in which the story takes place. As a result it’s a metropolis we’ve never seen before – a fantasy city of sorts, like 1984 – a near future dystopia.
The elements are set up to produce a profound and unique take on the genre of near-future thrillers. Unfortunately the second act is marred by the “Lord of the Flies” factor, a bend to the usual post-apocalyptic story elements which we’ve seen in countless other movies.
It's a predictable course of cause and effect action no more intelligent or creative than that horrible Stephen King film “The Mist”. When Gael Garcia Bernal and Maury Chaykin enter the picture they are immediately defined as the ‘bad guys’, and start an illogical conflict with the rest of the bunch. When the conflict becomes violent and life-threatening there's a deus ex machina staring us (and the characters) right in the face, but it isn’t cashed in. The filmmakers failed to ask the fundamental question to themselves, “what would I do in such a situation?” Since moral objections became null and void once the bad guys started raping the women in exchange for food, it’s a simple answer; Julianne Moore can see, the bad guys must die.
What’s also never answered properly is why the government suddenly turns into Nazis and starts treating the asylum like a concentration camp. It’s a lazy device contrived to generate quick and easy conflict. From a multi-award winning filmmaking team and a Pulitzer Prize winning book we all expect something smarter than “The Mist”.
These two plot holes mar what is for two thirds a wonderful artistic near-future thriller.
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