Throughout the film’s lengthy conception, it must have seemed as though ‘Blindness’ would never be made. The author of the book on which it is based, Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, closely guarded the rights to the work, fearing that in the wrong hands, its allegorical story would be diluted or warped beyond recognition. Fortunately, after much convincing from both director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Don McKellar, Saramago relented, assured that their hands were capable of producing a sensitive, faithful adaptation.
The film is set in a nameless town, inhabited by equally nameless characters who find themselves suddenly struck down by a strange infection of ‘white blindness’. Those first infected are quarantined in an abandoned mental health hospital by the government in a vain attempt to contain the epidemic. Those quarantined include the Doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and the Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore). The latter, however, in the film’s one key twist, can see.
Moore is the only witness to the horrible conditions imposed upon the infected and the brutal treatment to which the armed guards subject them. Terror reigns within the state of quarantine when The King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal) steals the inhabitants’ food supplies, demanding payment for the other wards’ rations, resulting in the captive women being traded as currency.
Cinema is a visual medium, so translating the terror of sudden blindness onto the big screen was always destined to prove a struggle. Meirelles succeeds in doing so by relying on Moore as the audiences’ main focus. Thankfully, she is more than capable of carrying the film, turning in a consistently enthralling performance as the only witness to the chaotic and hellish blind world in which she is entrapped. Another standout is Alice Braga as the complex Woman with Dark Glasses, a prostitute in the world of sight, and a maternal figure in that of the blind.
The film is often brutal and difficult to watch, dispersed with little comic moments and often heart-warming kindness amongst the infected. However, allegory on film can often be either far too subtle or far too patronising, and Meirelles tends not to get the balance quite right. This is especially evident during the final scenes, throughout which Danny Glover’s narration as The Man with the Eye-Patch is littered with sentimentality, a stark contrast the film’s previously consistent tone.
It’s tempting to compare Blindness with other apocalyptic films such as Children of Men or Day of the Triffids, but in spite of its plot, it is not a work of science fiction. The film simply isn’t interested in the how and the why; even the Doctor conveys no desire to understand his situation, affording audiences little hope of conclusion.
Blindness is a film that deserves to be seen, but is likely to subject the viewer to more brutality than perhaps they are bargaining for, offering little in the way of salvation or redemption.