Rating: 2 stars
Have you heard the news? People stink. They are self-serving, cowardly, cruel, and just a crisis away from abandoning all civility. Or so the producers of Blindness would have you think.
Okay, even if you buy into that premise—and I don’t—I still ask you, what’s the point in making this film? Certainly Sartre did the “hell is other people” well enough, right? Lord of the Flies showed how quickly we can lose our grip on moral decency. At the risk of sounding cynical, perhaps it’s because it gives undeniable great actors—like Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo—and a talented director (Fernando Mereilles) the chance to really roll around in the muck and show us how gritty they are.
As the story begins, a handsome Asian yuppie (Yuseke Isaya) is driving his Mercedes down a crowded street when he suddenly stops at a green light. He can’t see anything. He’s gone blind. A seemingly good samaritan takes him home, and then steals his car. (This is our first sign of the rather low view of mankind the film holds.)
The blind man’s wife takes him to an ophthalmologist (Ruffalo), who proclaims there’s nothing physically wrong with him. The doctor goes home, tells his wife (Moore) about the perplexing case and the next morning, he can’t see either. The blindness epidemic spreads rapidly (it’s never explained) and the government decides to quarantine all victims—and then essentially leaves them to rot.
Afraid to let her husband go alone, the doctor’s wife accompanies him to the quarantine facility, even though she hasn’t been afflicted with the malady herself. She remains the only person who comes into contact with the “virus” who can see. (This, too, is never explained.)
At the quarantine, chaos and fear run rampant. Moore’s character is as helpful as she can be without giving up her sighted identity (she’s afraid, at first, that she’ll be sent home; later she fears the blind will turn on her) and the asylum becomes almost uninhabitable—feces and filth in the halls, people running around naked, all decorum abandoned. Eventually an anarchist of sorts (Gael Garcia Bernal) who has somehow gotten his hand on a gun, holds the small food rations hostage until the women submit to him and his venal band of accomplices. And so it goes.
The whole thing is so relentlessly grim and bleak, it truly doesn’t deserve its ending, which has notes of grace and hope (and even trots out a cute dog to win back our affection.) Indeed, the film’s final scenes are its best, a much-needed gasp of air after two hours of suffocation. There’s also a fascinating bit of insight into an old man (Danny Glover) who prefers the world stay blind. More insight like that would’ve gone a long way. As it is, I spent much of Blindness thinking, “My eyes! My eyes!”