Friday, September 21, 2012
Blindness - A Review
The essential plot is simple enough - an epidemic of blindess sweeps through the population of an unnamed city, and society crumbles as a result. The plot itself is convincing, and director Fernando Meirelles pulls out all the stops, using every cinematograhic trick in the book to make this a movie that's easy to watch, but hampered by awful dialogue and a poorly realized world. Not having read the book on which the movie is based, I'm not sure how much of this is due to the source material (wiki tells me that the movie leans heavily on the plot from the book), and how much is due to an inexperienced screenplay writer.
At its core, this is a strong idea, and the cinematography used convincingly to immerse the viewer in the situation. I can't describe how gorgeous this movie is to watch, I'm glad that I saw it just for all the clever ways Meirelles uses the camera to drag the viewer into the world. The acting is serviceable, if a bit typical - Julianne Moore is typically Julianne Moore-ish, same with Mark Ruffalo. Danny Glover continues his second career as the go-to guy for movies that can't afford Morgan Freeman, here playing the Magical Negro.
So far so good.
The main problem I have with this is the fact that, according to the wikipedia page, the city these folks live in is under the thumb of a totalitarian government. Fair enough, but unfortunately, that is never communicated in the movie itself. In typical apocalyptic scenarios, the government starts off with well intentioned, if slightly draconian measures as they attempt to curb whatever scenario is facing them, and gradually lose perspective and become harsher and harsher. Here, they zoom straight to "Bag o' Dicks" mode, immediately tossing every blind person they can find into a prison and shooting anyone who walks towards the door. It sort of makes sense if the goverment is a Bag o' Dicks already, but the film goes out of its way in the beginning to show how normal everyone is, so the Bag o' Dicks sort of hits you upside the head unexpectedly, leaving you wondering why the government is being such jerks.
Then it gets worse - I mean, really, they shut off the water so the blind people are walking around in filth, they give them less food than they need with no explanation given, the guards play "hot and cold" games with the blind people when they come to collect their food rations, they shoot one then run off, muttering, "Sarge is gonna kill me now!". It doesn't come across as a real world, totalitarian or no, but rather like a sixteen year old's rant, their immature idea of what "The Man" is gonna do when he comes for you.
The problems continue. Bad enough that the world wasn't realized enough to clue the viewers into the fact that the characters are ruled by jerks, but it turns out they're stupid jerks, as well. They are able to recognize the pattern of infection within 24 to 48 hours (the timing is a bit indistinct, but it doesn't seem as though that much time passes between intial infection and incarceration), they locate Patient Zero, but they make no attempt to try and learn anything about whatever is causing the blindness, they just toss everyone inside. Maybe I just have an optimistic view of apocalyptic scenarios like this (heh), but I'm pretty sure that in addition to containment, trying to, oh, I don't know, solve the problem? Might be on most governments' agendas, no matter how totalitarian they are?
And the dialogue. There are several instances where even veteran actress Julianne Moore isn't able to sell some of the lines she's given. Looking at screenwriter Don McKellar's IMD page, it looks like this was his only screenplay, and I can see why. Stilted dialogue abounds, the absolute nadir being when Danny Glover shifts (literally) into narrator voice for a solid two minutes, describing to those gathered 'round the events that had occurred since they were tossed in the brig.
Then there's that scene. As things start to break down, one group assumes control of the food, trading it first for valuables, then for women, leading for an extended, and very uncomfortable mass rape scene. Yes, nine women are gang raped by about thirty men, and it's just as awful as you think it would be. Apparently, it was cut back from it's original length, and it still feels too long. The less said of this, the better.
Okay, that's the bad.
There really is a lot of good to this, though, really! Some very interesting characterization - none of the characters have names, for instance, something neither I nor my better half realized until about halfway through the film when we realized we were referring to the characters as "The Doctor", "The Doctor's Wife", "The Guy With the Eyepatch", etc. Which, coincidentally, are the character's actual names in the script. So well done there!
There are other ideas floating around as well. At one point, someone who was born blind is tossed in with the rest. Being more used to his condition than the rest, he is able to get around better, and assumes a position of power within the group. Surprisingly, he's kind of a jerk as well, participting with gusto in that scene, and acting like an all around pompous ass. It's unusual to see the disabled portrayed as anything but noble at best, troubled at worst. This guy is an unrepentant ass. Apparently several advocacy groups for the blind protested this movie, and even picketed some showings, and I have a feeling this character is a big reason why. José Saramago, the author, apparently responded: "Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind." Well said, that.
Again, I can't overstate how marvelous the cinematography is, It does an amazing job of disorienting the viewer, and pulling them into the world. Even when it's horrible (like in that scene), it's still effective. I won't mention it again, except to say that if you take nothing else away from this review, the movie is GORGEOUS.
Just keep your finger on the remote for that scene.