Movie News & Reviews

Plot of 'Blindness' loses its focus

I know you can't tell this from my pretty pretty picture, but I wear contacts.

My eyes are so bad taking off my glasses is like instantly being ondrugs. Lights look fuzzy and huge. People are mobile blurs. I crashinto things and can't keep my mouth from hanging half open. Yep, beinghalf blind is completely awesome.

Perhaps that's why I'm so cavalier about losing my sight. You'll neversee me wearing goggles while swimming with the AmazonianCornea-Eaters. When my BB gun jams, I stare straight down the barrelto find out what's up. Camping one time, I forgot my steel and had toscrape my flint directly across my pupils. The flint broke. Terriblevision has made me like a Superman who can barely tell day from night.Blindness posits that if we all went blind, civilization as weknow it would fall apart, but you know what? I poked my eyes out rightnow, and I bet I finish typing this jsut fnie.

In the middle of traffic, a man suddenly goes blind. Optometrist MarkRuffalo can find no cause or explanation, and shortly after treatinghim, Ruffalo goes blind, too.

He's not the only one. As the epidemic spreads, the governmentresponds by quarantining the infected, hauling them off tounsupervised wards surrounded by armed guards. Ruffalo's hauled off,as is his wife Julianne Moore -- only Moore can still see.

Her sight comes in pretty handy when the quarantined are expected togovern themselves. It's even more useful once this order breaks downin the form of a self-proclaimed hospital king taking control of thefood and declaring that, if everyone else wants to eat, they'll haveto pay.

Like Lord of the Flies, but with adults who should know better,Blindness follows the collapse of both the makeshift societyinside the quarantine walls and the wider one outside them, finding agrimy, ground-level realism. Normally apocalypse movies are peopledwith savages who look like they spend their dull TV-free livessleeping under mud blankets and stabbing each others' leather jacketswith long-bladed knives, so it's a nice change of pace to see disastersurvivors who, rather than looking stylishly dangerous, just lookunwashed.

Also, in what's surely the most ironic thing since rain on yourwedding day, Blindness looks great. With whitewashedcinematography and an eye for filth, dirt, and debris, directorFernando Meirelles creates a world that makes raw sewage even morebeautiful than usual.

It's less brilliant in the story department. Seemingly unable todecide whether it's about the span of the infection, the afflicted'sstay in quarantine, or the way an unstable society strains somerelationships while strengthening others, the plot sometimes losestrack of itself. Not enough to be boring or frustrating, but enough,sometimes, to wonder where all this is going.

The answer, it turns out, is barbarism. Brutal, not-wearing-clothes,let-your-waste-fall-where-it-may barbarism. Achieved through agradual, understated progression, their slide is compelling right upto when the self-proclaimed king starts extorting them, at which pointMoore, Ruffalo, and their civilized gang make the leap from simplybeing putrid and stinking to being putrid, stinking cowards.

I'm a man of monstrous peace, myself, and I'll shoot you through theneck if you ever say different, but there's a point at which you fightback. If my roommate steals my pudding from the fridge, he can expectto have his body stuffed in the freezer. When the king starts makinghis demands -- and remember, man of peace here -- I would be murderingpeople like an automated murder machine.

It's tough to argue what characters "should" have done in a givensituation, but for a short stretch, the movie's realism gives way to"Now Suffer Some More, Jerks!" Syndrome, where bad things seem to behappening more for the sake of making the characters' lives hell thanbecause they're the natural result of what's led up to them.

Only for a short stretch, though. Blindness isn't so much thesci-fi thriller of the trailers as it is a study in the ways peoplereact to change and disaster. It's gorgeous and just well-observedenough to forgive it a few detours.

Grade: B-