February 18, 2009
After the gritty realism of City of God (2002) and The Constant Gardener (2005), filmmaker Fernando Meirelles decided to shift gears with his next film Blindness (2008), a science fiction parable with a star-studded international cast. The end result is mixed to say the least.
In a busy intersection a motorist suddenly goes blind. He describes the experience akin to swimming in a sea of milk, which is odd as going blind is usually described as the absence of light. His wife takes him to their eye doctor (Ruffalo). Pretty soon, the people he came into contact with experience the same kind of blindness: the man (McKellar) who helped him get home, a woman (Braga) in the doctor’s office waiting room, the doctor, and so on.
In no time it becomes a full-blown epidemic with all kinds of people being afflicted. The authorities quarantine those affected and, rather conveniently, the man who first lost his sight is put in the same ward with those whom he came in contact with and those they in turn affected. The only person who can see is the doctor’s wife (Moore) who feigns blindness so that she can be with her husband.
Blindness depicts how the social order breaks down as more people become infected. Naturally, the government has no idea how to deal with the problem and becomes mired in bureaucracy. The film shows how the quarantined barracks are basically concentration camps where people live in their own filth while the soldiers that guard the place shoot anyone who steps out of line. It also captures the tedium that these people experience on a daily basis and the unrelenting suffering and degradation they experience, which doesn’t translate into an enjoyable experience for the audience either.
Blindness is a film as sociological experiment which can work with the right material but not in this case. Instead, we have actors who grunge themselves down and “act” blind, playing characters that are forced to humiliate themselves in order to survive. If you thought Dancer in the Dark (2000) was an uplifting musical and Requiem for a Dream (2000) was just too damn light-hearted, than Blindness is right up your alley.
“A Vision of Blindness” is a 25-part, 55-minute long making of documentary that can be viewed separately or altogether. It takes us through various aspects of the production in excellent detail. Fernando Meirelles says that he did not want to make a zombie B-movie. Some of the actors participated in blind workshops in order to prepare for the role. The filmmakers actually shot the quarantine place in a former prison. They also talk about the challenge of getting the rights to the novel that the film is based on because the author had, up until then, resisted anybody making films out of his books.
Also included are five deleted scenes with optional written introductions by Meirelles. They put the footage in context and explain why there were cut.