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Blindness: The Film

The Sunday Salon.com

Blindness is a dramatic thriller film that is an adaptation of the 1995 novel of the same name by José Saramago about a society suffering an epidemic of blindness. The blindness is very unusual one in which the afflicted sees a swimming whiteness. In an unnamed city, at a busy intersection, a driver stops his car and causes a traffic standstill. The man has suddenly become blind. The person who lends to his succor and offers to drive him home turns out to be a thief having his eye on the vehicle. The thief then receives his comeuppance and is struck blind. The wife of the first blind man takes him to the ophthalmologist on a cab. Within a day, the cab driver, the ophthalmologist, the patients at the eye clinic and those whom the first blind man comes in contact with turn blind. They all end up at a quarantine ward in an isolated, derelict patch of the city.

The film follows a handful of these people as they try to survive hunger in a government makeshift prison. It is strikingly disturbing as one of the wards has decided to ration food for everyone. These hooligans and thugs first ask for the collection of all valuables in exchange for food. When offerings thin out, they demand to have women sent to their ward to satisfy their carnal pleasure in exchange for food. As the wife of the ophthalmologist—the only person immune to the epidemic of blindness, has had enough, she retaliates and is determined to lead the handful out of the ward. Her sight is kept a secret by her husband and others, though as time goes on, she feels isolated in being the only one with sight. Her biggest concern in the beginning is simply her husband. But her ability to see ultimately both isolates her and makes her into a leader.

Some of the scenes are very gruesome and disturbing, rendering the audience completely silent. At one point I wondered if I could stay for the entire film. Under stern surveillance of soldiers, the internees have to abide by the regulations that push them to the edge of humanity—bury the dead among them, maintain strict isolation from the soldiers who bring in food thrice a say, remain indoor as any attempt to escape or any sign of a seditious movement will result in death. Most importantly, these people are all stripped of their identity because identity is no longer relevant. The notion of name is not important in the book as the characters succumb to their blindness. All that remains are the voices and the memories of the past with which each person makes of his identity.

Director Fernando Meirelles acknowledged the challenge of making a film that would simulate the experience of blindness to the audience, for everything about a motion picture is related to vision. With only one character’s (the doctor’s wife) point-of-view available, Meirelles sought to switch the point-of-views throughout the film, seeing three distinct stylistic sections. The director began with an omniscient vantage point, transited to the intact viewpoint of the Doctor’s Wife. The film is supposed to make one feel depressing and uncomfortable, as it unveils the evil inside a man through the visual style that is clinical and cold. The film is powerful—it almost rubs your nose in excrement, and will haunt you afterwards. But granted the source material doesn’t easily lend itself to cinema, it might have difficulty to engage the audience member who is not familiar with the novel.

16 Responses

  1. I might have to see this movie.

    But I have to be in my “end of the world” mood to see it.

  2. I think I’m with Isabel, I’ll have to be in the right mood to see this film. I didn’t realize it’d be so disturbing I guess. I’ve read a few other reviews and it does sound like a hard movie to watch.

  3. I definitely want to see this, especially after enjoying the book. The problem is finding a theater around here that’s showing it….

  4. I’m having the same problem as Greg–it’s just not playing anywhere in my neck of the woods. There’s something fundamentally wrong with a society that pays millions to place “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” at the top of the box office stats for two weeks running. Now, I’m feeling all potterish again! Blah!

  5. Isabel:
    Watch it with a friend maybe. 🙂

  6. Iliana:
    The movie is very grim, much darker than the book. Because nobody has a name in the story, and that it is shot in one person’s perspective, there is a sense of urgency to it.

  7. Greg:
    The opening has been postponed for almost a month in San Francisco due to what I think is the critical reception of the blind society. Not many theaters are showing here except for the AMC.

  8. chartroose:
    I’m with you. And also Pineapple Express, and Nick and Nora film…what’s all that hype? So Body of Lies didn’t top the chart this weekend?

  9. Blindness has been in theaters here since September 26th. Jeff and I almost saw it last night, but it’s received such lukewarm reviews, and it’s not exactly an upbeat film, either, we decided to see Eagle Eye (a fun popcorn movie) instead. I’d like to see it eventually. I found the trailer intriguing. My book club meets Thursday to discuss the book.

  10. Jef:
    Rotten Tomatoes gives it 41/100. I doubt many of the critics have actually ***read*** the novel before they see the movie. They sound so out of touch with the fact that this is told from the perspective of just one person—the wife, she is the only one who can see.

    Maybe you should watch the film after your book club? 🙂

  11. This sounds like a movie that would make me throw up (as I have done before). I think I’ll pass. My husband just asked me to keep my eyes open for the novel because he’d like to read it. He hasn’t read a book in the 13 years I’ve known him (how does that happen?), so it’s pretty interesting that he’s asking for this. It will make a good stocking stuffer for him. If the book is as intense as this movie sounds, I don’t think I’ll be fighting him to read it any time soon. 🙂

  12. I would like to see this film but I’m squeamish. The book is quite disturbing especially when it gets to the part about the quarantine wards. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

  13. Jennifer:
    I think the book is not as intense as the movie. Much of what happens is left to your own imagination. Get your husband to read it, after all, Saramago is such a great writer. He just has a new book out called Death without Interruptions. 🙂

  14. John:
    If you’re going to watch the movie, bring a friend with you. You might also want to skip the pop corns! 😛

  15. I read the book,I saw the movie.I think the movie and the characters are pretty faithful to Saramago’s book.Everyone are in the same page.
    It all about human relationship,human nature.
    We are pretty disgusting,and pretty delightful.We are what we are.
    Saramago is an amazing poet,and amazing phycologist.

  16. Is it worth to see?

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