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In a world gone blind, what if you were the only one who could see?

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Over the years, we’ve seen just about every kind of epidemic imaginable on the big screen. We’ve seen viruses that turn people into flesh eating zombies, viruses that cause near instantaneous internal hemorrhaging, and viruses that turn people in mutant superheroes. In Blindess, we ‘see’ a very different kind of virus; one that merely handicaps everyone in the form of taking away their vision. Exactly how one’s humanity and character is revealed in the face of such tragedy is the thrust of Fernando Meirelles’ (City of God) latest effort.

A Japanese man driving his car in rush hour traffic is forced to stop in the middle of the road as his vision has suddenly failed him. A seeming Good Samaritan hops in the car to help drive him home and steals his car after dropping him off. In short order, the car thief is blind. One by one, the network of the infected grows and quarantine becomes the fate of those afflicted.

It is in a squalid and nearly abandoned facility that the blind are left to fend for themselves. As society begins to crumble around them, those on the inside find their vanity and pride crumbling as well. Hope is all but lost were not for the fact that one among them (Julianne Moore) is not blind.

In many ways, Blindness is more terrifying than any horror film because it lacks (for the most part) the element of the supernatural or otherworldly. The origins of the virus may be unknown, but the human response to the crisis seems frighteningly believable and true to life. Director Meirelles gets some of the credit for this dystopian and disturbing view of humanity, but screenwriter Don McKellar should get his due for this as well.

Blindness is more of a character driven film than anything else and no character is more significant than Julianne Moore’s. It is primarily through the eyes of Julianne Moore that we see the fragile world come apart. Moore was an excellent choice for this role as she manages to subtly balance courage, fear, vulnerability, and hope throughout most of the film as an unlikely leader of the blind. Despite her seeming power, Julianne Moore never seems omnipotent or human than anyone else. Underscoring this is the fact that we never learn her name (or anyone else’s).

In stark contrast to Moore’s embodiment of hope is the twisted and tyrannical representation of the dark side of humanity in the character portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal. A bartender in the ‘real world’, Bernal becomes a monstrous dictator while in quarantine, ruling ‘Ward Three’ by whatever means necessary. Bernal projects his own fears and insecurities onto all the other denizens of the facility. It is a departure for Bernal in many respects as I can’t recall seeing him ever play such an unpleasant character. But, Bernal’s performance is no less compelling or well delivered than Moore’s.

Blindness is a powerful examination of the human condition during a global crisis. Not surprisingly, Blindess is not the most terribly uplifting film. But, Meirelles has done an excellent job adapting Jose Saramago’s novel and manages to shock, disturb, and oddly enough, inspire in a way that few films can.