'Blindness' worth seeing

Posted: Thursday, October 09, 2008

What would you do if right now, this very second, you lost your eyesight? No warning signs, no symptoms, just blindness. Maybe you're at work, maybe you're driving, maybe you're cooking dinner, but whatever you're doing... your world suddenly goes dark. Think about that honestly for a second. What would you do? How scary would that be? Who would help you?

Courtesy Of Miramax Films
Courtesy Of Miramax Films

Director Fernando Meirelles doesn't wait long to force you to think about these questions in "Blindness." A Japanese man sits in his car at a red light; everything is fine. The light turns green and he begins to drive forward - and then stops. He cannot see. Without any warning, then, this man is forced to rely on an apparently good Samaritan who offers to drive him to his house. What choice does he have? What choice would you have?

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in Don McKellar's script (based on the novel by Jose Saramago). The Japanese man's sudden blindness is contagious, because not long after the good Samaritan steals his car, he too goes blind without warning. It spreads quickly. It's not unlike the premise of any zombie movie (think "28 Days Later"). And the government's reaction to the situation is much like those same zombie movies: quarantine the infected.

So before we have had ample time to fully digest just how scary the situation is for these people, the setting for the majority of "Blindness" shifts from the big city to a building that screams "abandoned insane asylum." Once the infected have been shuttled into the facility, they are not allowed out. There's a video playing (oh, the irony!) on an endless loop on TVs explaining what's happening.

Let me sum it up: "Greetings, blind people. We have no idea what's happening, and we are freaked out. So we're going to lock you in here and pretend you don't exist. Well, except if you attempt to leave, in which case we will shoot you dead. Good luck."

Grisly armed soldiers periodically send in boxes of awful-looking food, and other than threatening to kill them if they venture too far, they offer zero assistance to the constantly growing population of infected.

"Blindness" becomes an uncomfortable study of human behavior once the population inside the quarantine reaches capacity; there are three separate wards, which quickly become hostile toward one another. The original group is led by a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore). Their group is mostly civil, trying to make the best of a horrible situation. Another ward, however, is led by a former bartender (played with maddening wickedness by Gael Garcia Bernal) who somehow managed to smuggle a loaded handgun with him into quarantine.

A gun's always powerful. It's borderline god-like when nobody can see. The bartender's ward declares they are going to take all of the food and "sell" it to the others as they see fit. At first they demand, and get, everybody's jewelry. Use your imagination as to what a group of men might demand, and get, next.

I haven't even mentioned that Moore's character can see. Obviously this puts her in a very unique position. (It's also why I'm still wondering why she waits so damn long to act.)

What makes "Blindness" so captivatingly interesting isn't the fact that one character can see. Rather, it is watching a group of human beings become completely inhuman when left to their own devices.

Perhaps what's scariest of all is that I'm not sure a real-life version of these events would be all that different.

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