Blindness is a tough cookie to crack. All the ingredients seem fresh, well thought out, at times even exceptional. For instance, Don McKellar's screenwriting work is usually nothing short of stellar; after all, it was he that wrote the brilliant analysis of a piano prodigy, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and that's just the type of ingenuity required for a project such as adapting José Saramago's illustrious novel, Blindness. McKellar's acting has also been top-notch from his show-stopping appearance in David Cronenberg's eXistenz to his well-rounded and elaborate portrayal of Thomas, the homosexual pet store owner in Exotica.
In addition to McKellar, Julianne Moore has a spotty but respectable filmography, as do Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover. Director Fernando Meirelles' previous projects, The Constant Gardener and The City of God, have won him critical acclaim and have allowed everyone involved in the production of Blindness to remain confident in his skill set.
However, from the outset of Blindness there's something not quite right. It takes heed from recent evolutions in technologies, it operates primarily in bright colors faded by an enhanced white layer, and feels smooth — the film progresses in such a way as to remove any bumps in the road. The act of condensing often has that effect on large and super-saturated novels, and here it feels the same way. There is a lot going on in every scene, yet each scene is clearly operating towards a goal, every moment before the protagonists are quarantined is obviously taking them closer and closer to that end. While this is a necessary trait of most films, the finesse required in making it work is not apparent here, and so we are ultimately conscious of the manipulative hands behind the camera.
The central concept of Blindness, as I'm sure you've discovered through commercials or just simply reading the title of the DVD, is that somewhere in an unnamed country there is a sudden and inexplicable onset of mass blindness. The film follows an unnamed eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore). The wife has retained her sight yet conceals this fact in order to remain with her husband when he is quarantined. The facility which is set up for the blind is an asylum of sorts which at first has a familial atmosphere, yet quickly devolves into a filthy and unlivable hell, thanks in part to a gun-oting faction from Ward 3. The King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), a childlike entity with a vicious and depraved personality, takes control of the food deliveries and demands valuable goods as well as the use of the women in ward 1, the doctor's ward.
It is in this scene, with The King of Ward 3 prompting the rape of the women, that the film really falls apart for a significant portion of its running time. Believe me when I say that I am not a sensitive viewer; I can sit through things plenty worse than what is contained in Blindness, but what I found so disappointing was the film's lack of reasoning. The doctor's wife has built up enough disgust and strength at this point that it seems only right for her character that she explode, yet she prolongs it out of the plot's necessity, and thus the 'resigned and morally corrupt' version of her character that emerges feels false in the context of the film.
The sad part of Blindness apart from its harrowing plotline is the fact that, in the end, it does get better. Much better. The film's final forty minutes are nothing short of fantastic, and for a time after watching you feel as if you've seen a worthwhile movie, as all that sticks out occurs in the last forty minutes. The visuals become extraordinary and all-encompassing, the dialogue tightens, the characters' development finally surfaces, and although it has the typical end-of-the-world-picture 'reset the apple cart' finale, it does so in a sympathetic and meaningful fashion.
As a DVD, Blindness is equal parts dynamic and dysfunctional. When I first put it into my DVD player, it asked me whether I wanted to view it in English or Spanish. However, because the menu is designed in a way as to illustrate the 'blindness' of the characters, there is virtually no difference when selecting either option's button. Once I figured out how to get it into English (and this was excruciating at times, due to there being no way back from the Spanish selection) the menu was actually cleverly designed, with words fading in and out of focus, making it clear which selection you were hovering over, but also adding a little something to the package. For bonus features there are some deleted and alternate scenes, most which could go unseen without any real detriment but if you're looking to prolong the experience, they might just do you that favor. Also included is a fascinating making-of featurette, which caters to the filmmakers in all of us.