WARNING: SPOILERS IN THE REVIEW
All the citizens of an unnamed city go blind, except for a woman who feigns blindness to stay with her husband.
I didn’t see the point of this movie.
This is another example of how getting top flight actors, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Alice Braga, among others, and an acclaimed director in Fernando Meirelles, will not give you a better movie if your story is not well thought out. That story comes from a 1995 novel by Portugese author Jose Saramago. The movie follows the novel’s tact of not giving names to the characters, so they are The Doctor’s Wife and the Thief, etc. Why do this? It seems gimmicky to never call out a person’s name, especially if everyone is blind.
The premise is simple: an unexplainable epidemic of blindness breaks out and the harried government and health officials decide to immediately quarantine the afflicted in what looks like an old army barracks. They imprison these blind people without any guidance or supervision whatsoever, no routine check ups, nothing, which is frankly hard to believe. There are armed soldiers outside who shoot to kill anyone who wanders too close or simply asks for assistance, which was also extremely hard to swallow. The mere handful of people dumped in these wards soon becomes a mass of people, leading to severe overcrowding. The source novel’s author, the screenplay writer, and the director all apparently hate the government and the military, which is why both are portrayed in such a poor light*. They view them as stupid and inept, which is the only reason I can see why when the soldiers kill a blind infected person, the health officials don’t even do an autopsy to try and discover the case of the blindness, just letting the sightless bury their dead.
*They should get together with the filmmakers of 28 Weeks Later, who shared the same attitude. It’s interesting that 28 Weeks Later, with a Spanish writer/director and Blindness, with a Canadian screenwriter, a Portugese author and a Brazilian director should have such a jaundiced view of American leadership.
With the severe overcrowding in two wards and no outside help, conditions soon become deplorable, with garbage and even human waste filling the floors and every corner of the place. With deplorable conditions soon comes deplorable human behavior, when a third ward is opened and manned by what seems to be nothing but ex-cons and junkies, who are soon led by the self-proclaimed “King of Ward Three,” played by Gael Garcia Bernal. The residents of Ward Three soon come to hoard all the meager food supplies, first demanding payment from the other wards in the form of watches and jewelry, and when those are quickly exhausted, sex from the women. Ward One complies and we are witness to the savage rapes of the women, which culminates in one of them being beaten to death. A few days later Ward Two is extorted this same way.
Now remember through all this Julianne Moore’s character can still SEE. She alone is not afflicted by blindness. At first she tended to her husband, but quickly she became the leader/organizer of Ward One, which is natural as she can see. When things go to hell with the take over by the Ward Three residents, who managed to smuggle in a handgun, her character just lets the heinous extortion happen – she lets the women, including herself, get raped. I was totally incredulous at her inaction. Yes, she is not a superwoman or a trained soldier, but in a world of blind people, she alone can see, and that gives her power. It’s only when she hears the cries of the Ward Two women being raped that she decides to kill their “king.”
At the beginning, I flippantly said I didn’t see the point of the film. Well, that’s because it didn’t have one. Aside from the obvious, and much worn, Lord of the Flies angle where civilization quickly reverts to barbarism. It didn’t add anything to that – I mean why have an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) as one of the blind? What does that irony say about what blindness does to us, to our civility and humanity? Rod Serling did these types of stories all time – and better than this film - in The Twilight Zone: mysterious and unexplained things would happen to people, which would turn out to be metaphors for the human condition. Roger Ebert's review calls this film "despairing, sickening...and ugly." He was being nice.
I really wish Rod Serling would have written this movie.