Saturday, October 11, 2008

Film Review--Blindness

directed by Fernando Meirelles
written by Don McKellar
based on the novel by Jose Saramago
starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianna Moore, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga, Don McKellar, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshina Kumura,

A sudden epidemic of blindness transforms clean and orderly neighborhoods into slums and its populations into scavengers. A group of the newly blind have all been forced into a government sanctioned quarantine and are forced to work together in order to survive.

Blindness overtakes an undisclosed number of persons in what appears to be the United States of America. It isn’t clear if this is a world wide phenomenon only that it has taken hold in a particular region. The infected include a Japanese couple (Iseya and Kumura), a Doctor (Ruffalo), the man who helped the Japanese man and then promptly stole his car (McKellar), a man with an eye patch (Glover), a woman who sleeps with men for money (Braga) and a self-willed man who causes a great uproar in the camp by declaring himself King (Bernal). Also present is the wife of the doctor (Moore) who is not quite like the others in that she alone can still see. They are all sent into a quarantine camp where they are forced to live together in order to survive.

The film deals mostly with the small societies that are created within the camp. There are three wards and initially they are able to ration food, keep themselves relatively clean, and look after each other. The landscape of the entire film is filthy, ugly and degenerate. Eventually, one man rises to the top, a natural leader who senses an opportunity, and proclaims himself King. He creates draconian laws that his henchman help enforce. It’s a clear example of any social situation among animals and humans. There is always one person or creature who either comes into power or who retains ambitions to do just that. In this case, the law comes down in the form of a gun. It alone dictates what is done and by whom. The gun is the great equalizer although nobody can surely say how many bullets go along with it. It’s a symbol of strength and order and it changes things dramatically.

In this environment there are moments of discreet pleasure where strangers take some solace in each other’s flesh. It isn’t explicit only a girl comments about already giving herself to a boy; regardless, these acts haunt the mood of the picture and provide it with a sense of decrepitude and desperation. It’s just about the only thing this lot can truly employ to remind themselves that they are indeed still human. Guards are ever present and shoot anyone who dares to come too far out into the courtyard. Again, it’s a world where the gun commands all into obedience and cruelly eliminates anyone who dares to challenge the very simple rule. One never quite understands why these people are being subjected to this kind of treatment. After all, others are allowed to stumble about outside on the streets of what used to be downtown but now resembles the most damaged sort of slum. The kiddies are left to fend for themselves and they truly appear to be fated to commit hideous acts for the same reasons the adults commit them. Blindness is anonymity and anything can happen without it being betrayed by the tyranny of sight.

The idea that sight is but one of the senses is exploited gamely in this film. The characters all adapt to their predicament after a period of conditioning and don’t appear to be particularly worse for wear. There isn’t quite enough of the psychological battle in this film as perhaps the characters adapt too easily to their strange new world. Regardless, the point is that they do adapt and the key figures in this film do not succumb to those base urges that scream survival at all costs. Perhaps this suggests that societal inculcation cannot so easily be replaced by the carnal will in some people. Yet, the scenes in the camp barracks suggest that rigid socialization creates a universe paralyzed by fear and aggression and that crime, brutality, and deprivation are necessary components that always make their presence felt after a while. This film seems to suggest that all social structure require leaders who can deftly influence others and guide them in a direction in which they ought to go. The Doctor’s wife takes on a tremendous responsibility in that she alone can see what no one else in the barracks can. Her role is to use the old way of being to organize the new-fangled through experience, patience, and knowledge.

The burden begins to overwhelm the Doctor’s wife and she begins to show slight cracks in her armour. The pressure is immense and she is overcome with emotion that is deeply troubling to her. It’s her loneliness, her isolation, as well as her sense of guilt that churn away at her and leave her feeling distant and not wholly capable of pushing on. She recovers as one would expect and begins anew her push to ensure that things remain as tranquil as possible. Her level of distress is key to understanding the nature of this film. She proves that it is truly impossible for one single person to govern without adequate support. She is alone and her disconnect comes simply from something that is so routinely taken for granted by those who retain the faculty of sight. She gradually comes to the conclusion through her gestures and demonstrations that she is not entirely alone and that the relationships she is forging are natural and entirely real. She is not a freak among the land of the sight impaired. She is not an outcast who can’t connect to the others. This realization allows her to understand her role more accurately and she launches into it with more grit and determination.

The film betrays slightly the idea that self-preservation wins out when the chips are down and real danger threatens the lives of those placed in the predicament. In this film, the overarching tendency is toward helping others as a sort of declaration of the Golden Rule. The main group that we follow for the majority of the film all share the same basic needs and they manage to unite in a way that is both democratic and fair. But they are but one group and perhaps become subject to the grand will of one man and his ability to convince others to establish his rule. The King is not demonized although he is the closest thing this film has to a villain. He is merely a man who is clinging to his identity and who finds or already possesses the one thing that nobody else possesses. Perhaps it is the gun alone that convinced him of his right to rule. Perhaps he already possessed this will before employing the weapon. Regardless, he alone dared to take the mantle and declare himself King. Once established in that role, he became naturally motivated by the fruits of power and success. He simply desired jewels and women.

The performances in this film are all uniformly excellent. Mark Ruffalo plays his character as an upstanding man who legitimately wants to do everything he can to help others. He’s the moral center of this film and Ruffalo never lets the audience forget this essential fact. Julianna Moore runs through the gamut of emotions in this film. Fear, rage, confusion, joy all work together to create a complex, driven character who is alienated and forced to lead in a world sorely devoid of anyone who can take charge. Moore is deeply sympathetic and most of this plays out on her face. She also conveys a determination and a strong desire to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others. Gael Garcia Bernal shows a fearsome, contained side as soon as his character brings forth the gun. He wields the weapon with authority and his character’s position of authority is clearly defined. Bernal lets slip little moments of vulnerability that come through mostly in his gestures and posture. The character is merely a man who got a simple idea and decided to run with it. Alice Braga’s character is a woman of many talents. Mostly she is a strong force that truly determines to be good. She is also a woman who enjoys sleeping with men for money or whatever she can gain from the transaction. One gets the impression that she is attempting to purge herself of her indiscretions but finds it increasingly difficult to abstain once she’s locked in a world where nobody can read her face.

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