Monday 11 July 2022

Movie Review: Blindness (2008)

A grim dramatic thriller, Blindness unleashes a mysterious epidemic to stress test the fragile underpinnings of civility. 

In an unnamed city, residents start to experience sudden white blindness. An eye Doctor (Mark Ruffalo) is exposed to one of the victims, and wakes up the next morning also blind. But the Doctor's Wife (Julianne Moore) is immune to the fast-spreading epidemic. She pretends to be blind to join her husband in a hastily-arranged government quarantine ward. Other patients include an elderly Man with a Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover), a Woman with Dark Glasses (Alice Braga), a Thief (Don McKellar), patient zero (Yusuke Iseya), and his wife (Yoshino Kimura).

Multiple adjacent wards are soon overflowing with blind people. Dignity, hygiene, and social norms break down, and an ugly power struggle ensues. A patient with a handgun anoints himself King (Gael Garcia Bernal). With the help of a born-blind Accountant (Maury Chaykin), King takes control of the food supply using intimidation, larceny, and rape. The Doctor's Wife has to find the courage to intervene using her gift of sight, while outside the quarantine wards, society is rapidly disintegrating.

An exhausting and exhilarating drama, Blindness offers a wide-eyed threat warning within a labyrinthine, unpredictable plot. Writer (and co-star) McKellar adapts the book by José Saramago, and director Fernando Meirelles creates a rollercoaster experience with stomach-churning emotions. Violence, tenderness, filth, love, hostility, and hope all find a place within a great unraveling. Widespread sudden loss of sight stands on its own as a disaster catalyst, but can also metaphorically represent the erosion of trust in the fundamentals necessary for communities to thrive.

Blindness gains effectiveness by adhering to plausibility. Civilized society does not have many anchor points, and the sudden onset of a fast-spreading disease - physical or mental - is more than capable of upturning normalcy. The Doctor and his Wife are thrust into a new reality with scary immediacy, and no script exists for what happens next. The Wife's transformation from a happily sidelined non-entity in her own life to a grim leader of a desperate group is at the heart of the narrative, and Meirelles gains strength by carefully building to her inflection point.

The wait for a hero to rise is agonizing. The quarantine wards are initially just stark and shelter-like but perhaps necessary. Before long, worst possible tendencies are fueled by basic fear-of-hunger and survival instincts. Relationships break down at the personal and collective levels, violence is not far behind, and the scenes of humans behaving according to the laws of the jungle are difficult to watch.

The aesthetics are intentionally jarring. Meirelles plays with white washouts - and sometimes pitch black screens - to create the illusion of blindness, thrusting the audience into the disorientation experienced by the characters. And the unknown is another kinetic variable. The disease origins, how far and wide it has spread, and why the Doctor's Wife is immune are just some of the questions swirling without easy answers.

With Blindness shoving society into turmoil, the likelihood of a civilized crisis response is an obvious and early casualty as raw malice and basic decency collide.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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