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Movie Review: Blindness

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In 1971 an experiment took place. In the near four decades since, the experiment has been used as an inspiration for many films. It has taken a number of forms over the years, twisted to serve the purpose of the film at hand. The experiment was called the Stanford Prison Experiment.

It was a psychological study that took college student volunteers and used them to simulate a prison environment, with some chosen to be the guards ad the others the prisoners. The two-week experiment had to be cut short after only six days due to the effects on participants. Blindness is a modified take on that experiment taken to an apocalyptic level and with the added bonus of, well, blindness.

Blindness-3Frankly, this was not quite what I expected when I entered the theater. I had expectations of an epic excursion into a dark future that threatened the future of humanity, a bleak, globe-spanning thriller. In a way I got that, with the additional images of the Stanford Prison Experiment and the film Das Experiment, heavily influenced by said experiment, dancing through my head.

Blindness is not exactly what the marketing made me believe it would be, which points to the deceptive nature of marketing and its need to make whatever it is selling, be it a film, a television show, or a tube of toothpaste, look good. With regard to this film, it appears that Miramax saw the film and had no idea how to make it marketable to the public at large. blindness2Blindness is a difficult film. It makes no effort to hide the dark side of humanity, the animal inside, and the way it so easily bubbles to the surface in the absence of true society.

In an effort to make the dark film more palatable to the public, the trailer plays it up as a society-wide epidemic compounded by a government cover-up. Not exactly accurate, but it did get me in the theater. Although, I do have to wonder what an accurate trailer would have looked like… probably wouldn't have worked too well.

As the movie opens, we are dropped right into the action. A Japanese man loses his sight while stopped at a traffic light, becoming patient zero. His attempts to discover the cause of the problem lead him and his wife to an optometrist (Mark Ruffalo). From there the infection, or whatever it is, begins to spread at an increasing rate. The morning after the doctor sees the first man, he wakes up to find his sight is gone.

The government of the unnamed country acts quickly and decisively. In an effort to protect the larger population, the infected are rounded up, a la The Stand, and placed into an abandoned psychiatric hospital. When the doctor is rounded up, his wife (Julianne Moore) refuses to leave her husband (I assume she suspects something is up, considering the way they are being shuffled off into the ambulance). So, she lies and says she is blind and is taken along with the rest.

Inside the hospital, three wards are set up with cots and food is dropped off on a semi-regular basis. At first, the blind community, with the one secretly sighted person helping, works well. However, their relative peace is short lived as more and more people are bussed into the facility. The larger the "community" grows, the harsher it becomes. The three wards break down into their own communities, making their own rules. Before long, one man declares himself the "King of Ward Three" (Gael Garcia Bernal) and all hell breaks loose.

blindness3The King takes control of the food and begins demanding money and valuables in exchange for it, and when that runs out, he demands women. The makeshift society completely falls apart. Only the doctor's wife can see what is going on with the horror that is developing around her. Will she take action? How long can she sit idly by as these atrocities are committed by what were decent people mere days and weeks prior?

The film is quite easy to follow. Despite the simple narrative, do not mistake this for a simple movie. Its themes are easy to pick up, but it is difficult to watch, hard to digest, and it will leave you wondering just what we are capable of, how much are you willing to watch?

The screenplay may be more blunt instrument than flowing prose, but it does do the job. Don McKellar's screenplay, based on the novel by Jose Saramago, is harsh punctuated with few moments of tenderness. I am reminded a little bit of the writing in Children of Men. While there is not much comparison in terms of flow, there is similarity in their depictions of a bleak future with only the sketchiest of surrounding information. You are left to fill in the holes as you see fit, to interpret what the surrounding world is like. In Blindness you can even give the characters names — there are none in the film. You can imagine what is going on outside and wonder.

Aside from the straightforward narrative, there is something to be said for the look of the film. The cinematography is spectacular. The washed out color palette is nothing new, but used in conjunction with the intriguing angles, fuzzy white and black transitions, and carefully framed silhouettes, it is really quite beautiful to watch. Credit to Cesar Charlone for his strong work here.

Fernando Meirelles may not be quite at the top of his game, but that is of no real consequence. The man knows how to construct a complex film. He shepherds Blindness from a mere thriller or post-apocalyptic tale to something more complex, a look into human nature and how much we are dependent on society with its rules and expectations of behavior.

Bottom line. I walked out knowing I liked it, but not quite knowing why. It took a little time to digest, and as I did, I found myself really liking the film. It may not be quite as brave as the commercials want you to believe, but there is no doubt that they put it all out there in making this film. The result is fascinating and just a bit disturbing.

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