Judge Paul Pritchard can't see this film catching on.
Our review of Blindness (1998), published September 21st, 2004, is also available.
You'll Never See It Coming.
Blindness is a cold, dull, arduous film that surely cannot have come from the director of the stunning The Constant Gardener. That director Fernando Meirelles also has the acclaimed City of God under his belt makes this massive misfire even more disappointing.
The movie opens with a Japanese man losing his sight whilst driving through heavy traffic. Rather than the traditional blackness associated with being blind, the man describes his condition as being more like having someone turn all the lights up, or "swimming in milk." Driven home by a passerby, the man and his wife visit a doctor (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac) to see if he can help diagnose the problem. While the doctor is unable to offer any insight into the cause of the problem, the condition itself begins to spread to others, beginning with those whom the first victim has been in closest contact with, including his doctor.
Before long the blindness epidemic has spread throughout the city, and the blind are quickly herded up and held in containment blocks. Split up into wards, the blind find themselves effectively left to fend for themselves. Amongst the hordes of blind is the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore, Hannibal), who has feigned blindness to remain with her husband. While in quarantine she finds herself the only witness to a society tearing itself apart, as humanity's worst traits are brought to the fore.
Exploring the breakdown of society through the use of a blindness epidemic, Blindness is both preachy and insulting. The film frequently labors its points, stretching its premise to breaking point, something that a 20-minute reduction in the running time may have cured. An ending that hints at a hopeful outcome does little to save the film and feels grossly at odds with what has come before. Even worse, the film has little or nothing to say, leaving the viewer confused as to what its point actually is. Are we supposed to draw comparisons with our own society in the way in which those suffering are so mistreated? Or perhaps the film suggests that, with little provocation, our more base instincts can quickly overtake us?
The film courted controversy on its theatrical release for its depiction of the blind, and while I can appreciate the film uses blindness as a metaphor, it is easy to understand why the blind community would be so angered at a film that suggests those blighted by their affliction would so readily resort to murder, rape, and other such atrocities.
In terms of visuals, Blindness is a success, with Meirelles continuing to impress with his ability to capture a strong image. The frequently desaturated picture, allied with the sterility of the prison-like wards, makes for a powerful vision of a society on the edge. A minimalist soundtrack further helps create this illusion, but ultimately isn't able to overcome the film's numerous flaws.
Like the visuals, the cast is first-rate with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo leading the way. Like the city that the events are set in, the characters are never referred to by name. It's an interesting move, and it succeeds to an extent. Though things never become difficult to follow, the characters feel too distant and empathizing with them is asking too much, especially when taking into account how quickly they descend to such animalistic behavior. The performances, though strong, struggle to add much humanity to the characters.
The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer impresses with its transitions from scenes full of beautifully deep colors to sequences where the screen is gradually filled by white light, which acts to simulate the effects of the virus on the viewer. The 5.1 soundtrack remains crystal clear throughout. A little front-heavy perhaps, with minimal use of the rear speakers, it has no faults to report.
A number of deleted scenes are joined by a documentary which details the research the filmmakers underwent to understand the effects of blindness. Running just shy of an hour, the "Vision of Blindness" featurette is arguably the highlight of the entire package.
Blindness has an interesting, if unoriginal premise, yet the sterility of the whole experience is just too off-putting. There's a sense that all involved believe strongly in the film, but it feels too self-important and pretentious to connect with audiences.
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