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BLINDNESS(director: Fernando Meirelles; screenwriters: Don McKellar/based on the novel by José Saramago; cinematographer: César Charlone; editor: Daniel Rezende; music: Marco Antônio Guimarães/Uakti; cast: Julianne Moore (Doctor’s Wife), Mark Ruffalo (Doctor), Alice Braga (Woman With Dark Glasses), Yusuke Iseya (First Blind Man), Yoshino Kimura (First Blind Man’s Wife), Don McKellar (Thief), Maury Chaykin (Accountant), Mitchell Nye (Boy), Danny Glover (Man With Black Eye Patch), Gael García Bernal (Bartender/King of Ward Three); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Niv Fichman/Andrea Barata Ribeiro/Sonoko Sakai; Miramax Films; 2008-Brazil/Canada-in English)
“A ridiculous allegorical story that must be taken literally to be believed even though it’s so absurd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”/“The Constant Gardener”) directs and the Canadian sometime director Don McKellar costars and writes the screenplay for this well-intentioned but nearly unwatchable, grim, murky and heavy-handed pretentious horror/sci-fi message film crudely using blindness as a parable about the apocalyptic nature of society during a crisis–leading to how the inability of human beings to make a connection will lead to the breakdown of society and everyone’s downfall as they are left groping in the dark subject to the mercy of divine intervention. It’s based on Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning José Saramago’s 1995 dystopian novel that’s unfilmable, an obstacle that this filmmaker can’t overcome except in a few instances (like the opening scene, effectively showing in a chilling way the first person stricken with blindness in traffic).

It’s about a sudden, unexplainable epidemic of a blindness, called “white blindness,” that allows the vics to only see white (Meirelles leaves the screen a milky white color whenever he wishes to show what the vic sees). In the unnamed modern big city (shot in São Paulo, Tokyo and Toronto), panic sets in and the plague immediately leads to the vics ordered quarantined by the government in dreary wards in a heavily guarded hospital so that they won’t infect others. Those initially stricken sightless include an Asian man (Yoshino Kimura) and his wife (Yoshino Kimura), a dedicated ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo), the car thief who stole the Asian’s fancy car (Don McKellar), a prostitute Mary Magdalene figure wearing dark glasses (Alice Braga), the wise old man with an eye patch who was a patient waiting in the ophthalmologist’s office (Danny Glover), a young boy representing innocence (Mitchell Nye), an accountant (Maury Chaykin) and the evil runt bartender who has a gun and declares himself king of a rival ward and forces a vile mass rape as payment so that the other wards will get some of the limited food rations he confiscated (Gael García Bernal) and not starve. This small group of inmates, each member with an obvious thematic identity, is followed throughout the film. The wishful lesson to be learned is to see who survives and understand why, even though the whole scenario as presented is far from convincing.

The ophthalmologist’s strong-willed wife (Julianne Moore) sneaks into the ward and is the only one with her sight left intact, and nobly protects her hubby and the other more gentle inmates from the atrocities of the king of the ward and the cruel outside world.

Blindness is merely used as an aesthetic that insultingly has the sightless groping around in the dark for most of the pic and banging into walls like a Three Stooges’ episode, only there’s nothing funny or anything to be learned that isn’t obvious about its shrill philosophizing or too much to see that’s worth seeing in this particularly unpleasant visually-impaired film (the claustrophobic dark scenes in the ward were brutal to watch and rather pointless, coming close to arthouse exploitation). Meirelles tries to do symbolically with blindness what a bullying makeshift adolescent society had done in Lord of the Flies, but comes up with a ridiculous allegorical story that must be taken literally to be believed even though it’s so absurd and didactic, in its worst sense, that to accept it at face value is to see nada.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”