Blindness (2008)

Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal, Yûsuke Iseya
A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant 'white blindness'. Those first afflicted are quarantined...
This allegorical disaster film about society's reaction to mass blindness is mottled and self-satisfied; provocative but not as interesting as its premise implies.
  • 03 Oct 2008 Released:
  • 10 Feb 2009 DVD Release:
  • $3.1M Box office:

All subtitles:



Trailer:

Fair adaptation of a complex novel5/10
"If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed", said the great Stanley Kubrick, who adapted most of his films from novels and turned them into his own films, rather than being too literal (or faithful, if you prefer) to the source material (and often turning authors and fans of the adapted novels crazy – Stephen King, anyone?). I agree with his statement. No literary work is "unfilmable" – which doesn't necessarily mean any literary work, good or bad, can be turned into a good movie. However, in spite of a few flaws, "Blindness" is a very efficient adaptation of a brilliant (and very complex) novel by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, "Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira" (literally, "Essay About Blindness"), and doesn't deserve all the bad reviews it's been getting.

The negative reaction towards the film doesn't surprise me at all, though. Fernando Meirelles, after getting world acclaim with his neoclassic "City of God", made a very successful transition to an international project with the beautiful "The Constant Gardener". His sophomore English project is very daring and dark, uneasy to watch at times, but also compelling and thought-provoking.

Cesar Charlone's exquisite cinematography sets the tone for the story of an unexplained "white blindness" epidemic. It's also a huge asset to have such a phenomenal actress like Julianne Moore to play the film's heroine: as always, she has a strong presence and is extremely expressive, making everyone believe and feel for her character's cross of being the only one who can see in a chaotic quarantine, where people have to submit to violence and rape in order to survive.

My only major complaint is about the uneven first 20 minutes or so: some sequences seem a little disjointed and the acting somewhat amateurish, but once the first act is done the film finds its own pace and strength. Roger Ebert called it "one of the most unpleasant, not to say unendurable, films" he's ever seen. For a start, it would be stupid to assume a film with such a dark premise would be uplifting (and if Ebert had the slightest knowledge about the material it's based on, he'd realize what he was up for), so his comment is unintelligent and atrocious like the majority of everything he's ever written (but he's a widely popular Pulitzer-winning film critic, so unfortunately lots of people trust his opinion before going to see a movie). Even though I still prefer the outstanding novel to the film, I admire director Fernando Meirelles and writer Don McKellar's adaptation for what it is: smart, daring and respectful to its source material, without being overtly faithful or afraid of taking risks. And Saramago himself approved the film, so who are we to criticize? The man knows what he's talking about; if you want to see it for yourself, read his novel now and then compare it to this film, appreciating it not as a literary work, but as the good piece of cinema it is. 8/10.
Blandness5/10
As an admirer of Saramago's masterpiece and Fernando Meirelles's exciting talent, I went to see "Blindness" with a pure heart but modest expectations; we all know how movie adaptations of great literature can be disappointing. But I wasn't prepared for the formal and philosophical nada that is "Blindness" -- it could very well be entitled "Blandness" instead.

The problems start from the opening credits: after the names of a dozen international production companies comes the hype tag "A Very Independent Production". Following this tongue-in-cheek "manifesto", the opening scene -- of the first man turning blind inside his car -- belies it all: it looks alarmingly like an ad for the new Fiat Punto (Fiat is one of the film's backers). It's a shameless piece of merchandise placement that immediately distracts you from what's supposed to be a harrowing scene; you pay attention to the car, not the man (excruciatingly played by Yusuke Iseya, in the film's worst performance).

The "very independent production" has more than a share of compromises, including the terribly contrived Japanese couple, who seem to belong to another film, and who are there to satisfy the Japanese co-producers and market. Or the timid, squeezed-in "action" flashes (cars crashing, planes exploding) to satisfy "action" lovers (NOT the public for "Blindness"). Or the debatable decision to film in English an author who brought new heights to Portuguese-language prose, in order to employ American stars and accommodate the international market.

Worst of all, we know now that Meirelles decided to re-cut the film six times since Cannes, after test audiences were "disgusted" with "graphic" scenes. Now, how can you keep your vision (oops) trying to please everybody? Can't. The film never finds a tone, wavering between the novel's apocalyptic, sarcastic allegory of society's prejudices, cruelty, ridicule and flawed power systems, and clumsy attempts to insert sci-fi thriller touches and invest on "plot". Well, Saramago's novel is a masterpiece NOT because of the plot but for the exquisite prose and caustic politico-philosophical insights.

It would be easy to blame the film's failure solely on Don McKellar's schematic adaptation that resembles a first draft, riddled with bad dialog and pedestrian ideas, plus a narrator (Danny Glover's character) that confusingly comes in halfway into the film. But the problems are all around: Cesar Charlone's visual gimmicks soon get tiresome (the blurring "white blindness" ultimately drains the film of all life; it takes away the visual as well as the emotional edge); Marco Antonio Guimaraes's music is abysmally bland; Daniel Rezende (the superb editor of "City of God") never finds a compelling rhythm, alternating chopped scenes with unnecessary longueurs (e.g.the embarrassing "cute dog" sequence). Art director Tule Peak nails the claustrophobic squalor of the quarantine facility, but the garbage-filled streets often look suspiciously composed.

The actors seem lost, and that's a shock considering Meirelles's former films (remember how "City of God" had all-around brilliant performances?). Though they're supposed to play stereotypes (doctor, wife, whore, etc), they lack the transformations that are the crux of the novel -- how they work out their humanity in extreme mondo cane conditions. Mark Ruffalo, of whining voice and gutless face, looks like a boy who's lost his mommy rather than a dedicated ophthalmologist who slowly sinks into depression because he's impotent to help others or himself. Danny Glover plays a weather-beaten one-eyed old man incongruously sporting a supermegawhite Beverly Hills dental job that renders him impossible to believe in. The Japanese couple struggle with ludicrous scenes and dialog. Alice Braga is strong and sexy, but her character's complexities never surface, especially the nature of her relationships with the young boy and the doctor. Maury Chaykin's repellent character is underwritten and under-explored, and he turns to overacting for attention. Don McKellar's thief is an embarrassment and Sandra Oh's cameo is a waste.

Julianne Moore spends the first half hour repeating her role of the depressed/misunderstood wife in "The Hours" (cake-baking included). She fails to convey the bewilderment as to the "why" she's the only one to keep her eyesight, but she's good when she gets into action, though she could take a break from her de rigueur slow-motion crying scene, with that weird thing she does curling her mouth upside down (my friend said "Oh, no, it's coming!"). The best performance comes from Gael Garcia Bernal playing the amoral, jackass opportunist: he makes the most unbelievable character (how about his rise to power? And gun? And ammo?) come to life -- in his scenes, we recognize Meirelles's naughty, un-PC sense of humor.

Above all, it's Meirelles (director, co-producer and responsible for the final cut) who disappoints; his customary assertive film-making flounders in hesitation here. Perhaps he felt the burden of trying to remain too faithful to the novel of a Nobel-winner who's still alive. Perhaps he felt crushed by the brooding material; Meirelles is best when he can let irony and humor show (as in "Domesticas" and "City of God"). Though some people complain about the "graphic" sex/rape scenes, they're actually almost bashful (at least after the re-cuts). The novel's corrosiveness asked for an uncompromising, irrepressible director of Bunuel's lineage -- if there was one -- to do it full justice (the characters' passiveness/impotence recall "Exterminating Angel"). In this our time, Bela Tarr could've made it gloriously bleak; Lars von Trier could've turned it into a shattering, sardonic horror, if he got back into his splendid "Kingdom"/"Zentropa" shape.

"Blindness" is not bad at all -- it's just insipid and frustrating. Maybe Meirelles should do next a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian film again and re-fuel his soul with his own culture, language and themes. Brazilian cinema needs him badly; abroad, he's just one more talented, competent "foreign" director, and these multinational ventures often turn out muddled or impersonal (think Kassovitz, Susanne Bier, Hirschbiegel...). He can do much better, and we deserve much better from him.
Opens your eyes for something you don't want to see8/10
The movie has its merits. It brings you into the story, making you feel all the emotions felt by the characters, and in my opinion this is why some people didn't like it; it opens your eyes for things that nobody wants to see. I'm not saying that a disease like this one could happen, but others may come, and that's a reality.

The movie makes you feel extremely uncomfortable; I caught myself thinking about leaving the room sometimes. The atmosphere that Fernando Meireles built is so heavy and dark (even thought the whole movie is full of bright colors) that it makes you feel something like depression, sadness, and you keep thinking in the movie after it has finished. The acting helped a lot in this aspect; all the actors did their best to give a perfect sense of reality.

If you want just to spend some time watching a good apocalyptic movie, this is not the one. It may be considered as "cult" in someway, by the fact that you don't watch it to get entertained, but to reflect about it.

If I had to grade this movie based on how I felt during it, I would give it a 0, but I have to say that, above everything, it is a great movie.

8/10
An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind7/10
It's very easy to understand why people hate this movie.

Blindness is directed by acclaimed film-maker Fernando Meirelles, with a story based on a novel by award-winning writer Jose Saramago. It stars Julianne Moore and Gael Garcia Bernal. What could go wrong?

Well, this is one the most depressing movies I've seen in recent years.

Don't be fooled, the genre of this movie is Horror, albeit done in an ultra-realistic way, much like the Brazilian movie wave of the 70/80's - gritty, violent, dirty, and ultimately hopeless.

However it's not a horror movie in the common sense. It's not scary because it has ugly monsters. It's not frightening because there is a lot of gore and blood. What freaks me (and others) out over this movie, is that it tells a story that could happen, and actually, is happening. If one can't see that, then one is as blind as the characters in the film.

The movie is technically brilliant, with great acting and top-notch effects. The story takes place in a non-specific city, but some of it was clearly filmed in Sao Paulo. The movie poses the question, "what if suddenly everyone in the world became blind"? This is a practical question as much as a metaphorical one.

I don't think this movie can be "enjoyed". The violence is suggested rather than seen (which IMHO makes it scarier). It can, however, be appreciated, as its shocking nature is nothing more than a wake-up call for humanity.

Having said that, Meirelles took a huge risk (the novel was considered to be un-filmable) with this film, and the result was a lynch-mob reaction from both critics and audiences. I wonder how this will impact Meirelles' future works.

I will dare to suggest that, if this had been filmed in Spanish or Portuguese, it might have been hailed as a cult movie. As it is, it's too alienating for audiences that are used to happy endings and fake-violence, or people who watch movies solely to pass the time.

This one is for 'hardcore' movie fans - don't watch it if you're depressed or sad. And it offers the viewers very little in the way of comfort. However, it's so well-executed and disturbing, that you can't help but agree that their goal was reached. Unfortunately, the marketing and the names involved with 'Blindness' misled many viewers who otherwise would never dream of watching this.

It's not a perfect film by any means, though. The music (specially in one crucial scene) just feels out of place sometimes. And If you can't picture yourself as a blind person, some things may not make a lot of sense, too. There is a scene however in which one of the characters sings a very popular song in a slightly different way - one you are not likely to forget anytime soon.

Approach with caution, and preferrably, alone. You don't want to lose any friends or potential dates. But I also think that to miss out on this movie is like losing a chance to watch one of the most thought-provoking films of this year.

7/10
Intense, slow, gritty, powerful and methodic10/10
I expected an over-the-top action flick, a-la Mad Max style or I Am Legend style. This movie was much slower, much dirtier, and more real. It was more like the BOOK "I Am Legend." The point of the flick was the human element and not the action. It was great.

Having said that, I should have waited to rent it. The audience sitting around me was not intelligent enough to appreciate it -- nor intelligent enough to shut up during the movie. Their chattiness seemed to be born out of boredom. Shame.

I wondered how the movie would end. And at 2 hours long I had plenty of time to think about it. I could not guess it. Perhaps someone smarter, or who thinks in more obvious terms could have guessed it. But I was surprised by it. And it really leaves you thinking. That is, if you were thinking during the movie up to that point.

This movie is dirty to watch and will leave you feeling dirty. In a very adult, intelligent, thought-provoking manner. I write few reviews. This movie moved me to write a review.