You Haven’t Seen This, Have You?  You Need to Remedy That

Main Cast: Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo

Director: Fernando Meirelle

I hate underrated movies. No, I mean I hate when great movies are underrated. And it happens a lot. For me, the 2004 version of The Ladykillers, with Tom Hanks, is one of the best comedies ever made, but I seem to be in a very small minority on that opinion. And for, 2008’s Blindness, with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, is an excellent drama that just had too much stacked against it to make it the success it deserved to be.

For one, it’s a movie without genre. The first trailer I remember seeing for it made it look like a horror movie, or dark sci-fi at least. But the end result, while the horrible premise is so much NOT a horror movie in any way, shape or form.

Second, none of the characters are given names, so all we have to identify with anyone is their face, which, in a visual medium like film actually works really well, but from a story perspective, it also holds the audience at something of a distance, keeping us from properly feeling for the characters like we’re supposed to. And in a story like this, I think we’re definitely supposed to feel a lot for these people. Unfortunately about 75% of the roles in this one go to people whose names we never know and who don’t appear in the story long enough for us to form any other sort of bond. As for those other 25%, we don’t learn their names, either, but we are able to glean something about their personalities through their actions. Also, I think it’s kinda sht that, in a movie with a woman as the glue that hold everyone together and saves their lives, in the credits she’s listed only as The Doctor’s Wife. Why not list him as The Heroine’s Husband?

But whatever.

Blindness is adapted by Don McKellar from the novel by Jose Saramago (directed by Fernando Meirelles) and starts with a Japanese man in traffic when he’s suddenly struck blind. A bystander, played by McKellar, offers to drive the man home. When they get there, the bystander takes off with the man’s car.

The man’s wife takes him to see an ophthalmologist (Ruffalo) who tells him he can find nothing physically wrong with the man’s eyes. Next the Doctor sees a young boy, then a woman in dark glasses (Alice Braga, Elysium) while a man with an eye patch (Danny Glover) sits in the waiting room.

Later the woman picks up a prescription, gets a drink at a bar, then goes up to meet her date for the night. After the john has received the service for which he has paid, the woman is also struck blind.

The next morning, the Doctor wakes to find he’s also gone blind. The news reveals this is the beginning of an epidemic and the infected are then shuttled off to quarantine zones, in this case an abandoned asylum.

The Doctor’s Wife, sensing something is amiss, insists she’s gone blind as well, and gets in the van with her husband. Among the first to be brought into the quarantine facility is a Japanese man, the man who stole his car, a young boy, and a woman with dark glasses.

As time passes, more and more people arrive until there are three wards of the hospital being occupied by the newly blind. Well, and the Doctor’s Wife, who keeps her sight a secret from everyone else except her husband.

As the days stretch into weeks, conditions worsen inside the asylum. The armed military guards outside don’t bring enough food, they refuse to bring medicine, and threaten anyone who tries to leave with a bullet in the head.

That’s a threat they follow through with when the last group arrives by bus and three of them are killed.

The Doctor, as elected representative for First Ward, goes to the other wards, suggesting each one take turns burying one of the bodies in the yard. The people in Ward Three don’t want to hear it and one man–the bartender from an earlier scene with the woman in dark glasses–speaks up and proclaims himself King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal, Letters to Juliet), declaring no one in Ward Three will even think about burying anyone until after they’ve eaten.

In fact, he later decides, Ward Three will, from now on, be in charge of all food distribution. Conditions inside the asylum reflect those outside as the world falls apart, and once all the valuables have been collected from Wards One and Two for food, Ward Three decides on a new method of payment: the women.

All the while, the Doctor’s Wife is still the only person in the building who can see, and she’s got a pair of scissors stashed away just in case.

Blindness is a very powerful movie, and a very bleak one. Anyone who watches this 2 hour movie and finds even a spark of light in the first 90 minutes is a much more optimistic person than I am, that’s for sure.

But for all its depravity and depression, Blindness is compelling and addictive. For a normal 2 hour movie, I would have found myself endlessly distracted, on my tablet, on my phone, thumbing through comics, checking email… Okay, I checked email twice during this movie, but over the course of TWO HOURS??? That’s not bad at all.

I didn’t find a bad performance in the lot, and with a cast full of sighted people pretending to be blind, I was on the lookout. I mean, sure a time or two the kid or the girl in the dark glasses or the Doctor were looking a little too specifically at the person talking to them, but those instances were few and far between enough it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the acting at all.

Moore holds it together and carries this movie single-handedly while Ruffalo, whom I love in everything he’s in, played the Doctor with what was supposed to be honor and courage but turned, as the story progressed, into helplessness and jealousy. Braga’s portrayal of the woman in the dark glasses went from stern and unforgiving to warm and motherly.

Then there was Bernal whose King of Ward Three is exactly the kind of unreasonable villain I love to hate.

I’m not sure there’s any amount of praise I could heap on this movie that would be high enough. I’ve seen it twice now and I have to say the second viewing paid off greatly, revealing connections I hadn’t made the first time through.

Meirelle’s direction and style compliment the story wonderfully and I can’t imagine anyone else would have adapted the novel quite as effectively. This truly is a great movie that I think almost no one has seen. Actually, the fact I bought this one for $5 in a pack with 5 other movies, basically paying $0.83 for it, almost seems like an insult to it. But I can’t be too offended because $0.83 or $20, I own Blindness on DVD. Not that I would make too many viewings a habit; like I said, this one is bleak and unforgiving. This is slit your wrist in a bathtub storytelling right here. And I loved every minute of it.

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