From the official Cannes program:
"A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those first
afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital
where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly breaks down. Criminals
and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hording the meager food rations
and committing horrific acts. There is however one eyewitness to the nightmare.
A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to
quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who
have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the
ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization
crumble. Their voyage is fraught with danger, yet their survival and ultimate
redemption reflect the tenacity and depth of the human spirit."
Summaries like that are usually submitted by
representatives of the film itself. Noting that, we may want to be aware that
anything which willfully purports to "reflect the tenacity and depth of the
human spirit" is probably some seriously pretentious schlock.
Roger Ebert loathed it (1.5 stars)
Berardinelli was more enthusiastic
Although the film was adapted by Don McKellar from a novel by Nobel laureate
Jose Saramago, this general approach to the apocalypse reminds me very much of
another film scripted by McKellar: Last Night. In the latter, it is simply a
given that the world will end tomorrow at noon. There are no scientific or
theological explanations offered for this phenomenon. It's just a given, because
the author wants to focus entirely on the behavioral issues. What would people
do on the last night of existence? Would they bond? Would they eat rich food and
take drugs make love non-stop? Would they take sleeping pills to pass through
the final gates without fear? Would they pass the time in quotidian tasks? Would
the bad people continue to hurt others until the very end? The premise of
Blindness comes from the same core of thought. It is simply not important why
the entire world is going blind, nor why the one woman is immune to the
epidemic. It just is that way. Period. Granting that premise, how would people
I'd say that the work stands with the best of science/fantasy fiction in that
it does not begin by trying to try to push some point of view, then creating a
contrived story to support it, but simply sets the premise and tries to figure
out what kind of world we would live in if the premise were true. The difference
between the two can be illustrated by the difference between the book version of
Children of Men and the film version. The book started with this premise: "What
would happen to a world without children? What would the world be like 20 years
after the last birth? 40? 60?" From that origin, the author tried to picture a
world without youth: the services neglected for the lack of strong backs,
the lack of planning for the future, the poignantly deserted playgrounds and
schools, the gradually increasing ratio of women to men, etc. That hypothetical
world did not become particularly violent because violence derives mostly from
the recklessness and testosterone of young males, and there were none. On the
other hand, the movie version started with this premise: "Bush sucks. Oh, yeah,
and there's no more kids." From there, it was lost because it was forced to
abandon the first rule of thoughtful science fiction: pose the "what if"
question, then try to answer it as honestly as possible, with the ultimate
purpose being to study how human nature adapts to or is affected by unusual or
extreme conditions. We don't need science fiction to tell us what would happen
if Bush sucked. We saw it under actual laboratory conditions.
By the way, I liked the movie version of Children of God. It was an
interesting movie, excellent in many, many ways. I liked the story, but it had
almost nothing to do with the original premise about the lack of children. It
was a good film, but bad science fiction - because it made no effort to stay
true to its premise. It did not really try to picture what the world would be
like without young men (and the young women they fight over.)
From that perspective, Blindness is not as good a movie as Children of God,
but it is better science fiction. The world it pictures is very much like the
world we might live in if everyone suddenly went blind. In one small corner, the isolated
hospital ward of the first few victims, society degenerates into brutality. In
the real world, given the premise, that sort of micro-society would certainly
emerge in some confined places. Jails, for example. In contrast, the streets
outside are not filled with brutality, but simply sadness, chaos, and
desperation. People wander in search of food and shelter and a proper toilet.
Vital services are neglected.
The scenes in the contamination ward are claustrophobic and painful to watch,
as Ebert noted, but the movie is very different after the escape from that ward.
The scenes on the streets of the city are thoughtful and beautifully realized.
That was the point where I disagreed with Roger Ebert's analysis. Like him, I
hated watching the horrible events which took place in the isolation ward, but
unlike him, I did not dislike the last half of the film. Sure, life is bad on
the streets, but it's not entirely without hope. People take joy where they can
- exulting, for example, in a warm summer rain which allows them to bathe and
gather drinking water. The small "family" that becomes our anchor in the film
finds a modicum of peace and even gets to celebrate Thanksgiving - and they
truly believe there are things to be thankful for, even in those black times.
And the ending even offers a ray of cautious optimism.
This film is filled with nudity. In a world of the newly-blind, nudity
becomes unimportant and casual. What difference does being naked make when
nobody can see you? Since the print is a Brazilian screener with Portuguese
sub-titles (the director is Brazilian), I skipped over the steady stream of
unknowns to show Julianne Moore and Alice Braga.
Here is a
Braga film clip
Here is a Braga/Moore
Below are some captures of the shower scene. So
dark they are almost a waste of time.