After watching Denis Villanueve’s take on Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s novel The Double with Enemy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal), which I appreciated way after I have watched it compared to when I actually was, I did a bit of research on Saramago and learned that one of the films I missed in 2008 starring Mark Ruffalo, Blindness, was actually adapted from one of his works — a novel of the same name. Of course, I wanted to see if it was just as strange as Enemy. It was, actually, but in a different way.
In an unnamed city somewhere in the world, a man suddenly loses his sight in the middle of traffic, but instead of going dark, he experiences a phenomenon where he is swallowed by light “as if he is swimming in a milky sea.” A bystander offers to drive him home but for far more nefarious reasons. The stranger ends up stealing his car. Later, the man’s wife arrives and takes him to an eye doctor and pretty soon, all of the people who grew in contact with man succumb to the same phenomenon. Soon, the city is swamped by the epidemic called white blindness and all those afflicted are sent to an old mental asylum, including the doctor’s wife, who has not suffered from blindness but pretended to do so to take care of her husband. But being the only person immune to the disease eventually takes its toll on her, and it becomes a challenge far greater than what she signed up for to deal with an entire facility of people who are suddenly plunged into helpless depression, abandoned by government and society because of fear and ignorance.
I must say that this movie was more horrifying than seeing the end of the world because of a zombie apocalypse, because it dealt not with monsters but the monsters within men. Director Fernando Meirelles, did a brilliant job of depicting the desperation and anxiety of a society unsure of what they are dealing with, deprived of one of the most vital parts of their being — sight. As the movie progressed, Meirelles clearly illustrated the difference between the doctor’s wife’s perspective and those of the blind inside the facility, her sacrifice and her ability to process fully the injustice and the inhumane conditions surrounding her because she could see. The chaos and the filth and the lack of compassion was both heartbreaking and disgusting so on that score, the film was able to establish among the audience an affinity for the blind. And because the characters had no names, just titles — doctor, doctor’s wife, girl with the sunglasses (Alice Braga), thief (Don McKellar), King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), man with eyepatch (Danny Glover)it became easier for the viewers to become more involved in the movie because they could just as easily subplant themselves with the characters they believe they could identify with the most.
There were times in this movie that I found it hard to watch the scenes — the utter depravity in some of the actions of the film’s villains turned my stomach to knots that I wanted to hurl. And the indifference of the government, the mishandling of the situation and the sheer thought of just sticking people in subhuman conditions, being treated like less than diseased cattle was equally to blame as the evil inside the walls. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo were stellar in their roles as the film’s lead characters but the supporting cast were no slackers too, in delivering characters whom audiences can relate to or abhor.
I read somewhere that when this film was released, a group of blind people were so offended by the depiction that they criticized and boycotted the movie as it damages the image of blind people everywhere, but I don’t really understand how the film put the blind in a bad light, because upon closer analysis, the film was not blaming the blindness or lack of sight per se, but rather then sudden lack of order and control and what this meant to people who are used to it.
All in all, the film was able to deliver the sense of terror, desperation and fear that the book obviously set out to do, but while it touched on the worst of humanity, it was also able to showcase the best of it — an indomitability of the human spirit, kindness, and an appreciation for beauty that needs no sight to reveal. My favorite part about this film was actually the words because they carried a very deep message that was so simple to understand. Truly, nothing beats the combination of a filmmaker who truly understands and appreciates the material and committing to deliver on it with artistry and quality. Ironically, a film that talks about blindness is one that opens the eyes of its audience to reality in today’s society and calls upon them to look inside themselves and their own humanity. A mass of contradictions, but a brilliant, profound and thought provoking film, and one of the best I’ve seen so far. I feel really stupid for not seeing it sooner.