In a generic city, in the blink of an eye, a Japanese man goes blind sitting at a stoplight, only able to make out an overwhelming whiteness. Unfortunately it’s too late before anyone discovers that his condition is highly contagious and it passes to everyone this patient zero comes in contact with: people in the street, his wife, a doctor, etc. It quickly spreads from there, but no one understands what is happening. The government decides to quarantine people in an abandoned mental hospital. When the authorities come to pick the doctor up, his wife, who is immune to the condition, fakes blindness to stay close to her husband.
As the first busloads arrive, the people adjust to the situation with the help of the doctor’s wife who keeps her vision secret. Everyone works together in this new community, but the buses don’t stop coming. Some newcomers balk at the rules and throw the asylum into chaos, particularly a man who dubs himself “The King of Ward Three.” The men of Ward Three don’t share in the chores or responsibilities, and eventually take power by stealing all the rations. The other wards protest, but the King has a gun. He decrees that the rations will be handed out according to the amount of jewelry and money the wards offer up. When that quickly runs out, the King requests the women in exchange for rations to the disgusting delight of the men who follow him.
These scenes, while understandably brutal, didn’t need to be presented in as much detail as they are. Screenwriter Don McKellar defends them in the press notes: “You are seeing things you don’t necessarily want to see. You want the freedom to look away, to turn your head, but it’s not being allowed. I wanted to the audience to be sharing the perspective of the Doctor’s Wife as her field of responsibility widens.” I fear that he and director Fernando Meirelles are mistaken and that this sequence will likely be the breaking point for those turned off by the film.
Eventually the whole world is blind except for the Doctor’s Wife. She and a small band of people struggle together to survive in a world barely recognizable, forming an extended family that loves each other among the insanity. The film’s ending comes just as quickly as it started, in the blink of an eye.
Although the film presents the noble qualities of humanity that raise it above the other animals, Blindness reminds us that man is still an animal and reveals, in no uncertain terms, how fragile society is. The depths of depravity and the harsh glare of the mirror forced into the viewer’s face will outweigh mankind’s goodness and undoubtedly be too much for many to take.