Plot: An epidemic of mass blindness hits an un-named city causing chaos & confusion. The afflicted are housed in a decrepit sanitarium, but as the number of infected grows, the newly blind are forced to fend for themselves. Eventually they split into groups, one of which is run by a former ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo), and his wife (Julianne Moore), who has managed to retain her sight, but is posing as blind in order to care for her husband.
Review: BLINDNESS is not for everyone. I can understand why the film received such a cold reception at the Cannes Film Festival, as at times it's almost oppressively bleak- so it's probably nobody's idea of a good time at the movies. It also pales in comparison to director Fernando Meirelles's last two films, CITY OF GOD & THE CONSTANT GARDENER- but as both of those films were near masterpieces, I won't hold it against him.
Overall, despite the bleak subject matter and the bad buzz, I still liked BLINDNESS a whole lot more than most of the critics that have been panning the film. I think one of the reasons BLINDNESS worked for me is that I've always had a phobia about one day waking up blind. It's one of the things that has always frightened me- probably due to the fact that I've always been fairly myopic, and know what it's like to have weak eyes. Some have complained that the affliction is being portrayed in an offensively frightening way, but I think people that criticize the film for that reason are missing the point a bit, as the film is not trying to accurately portray what it would be like for one person to suddenly go blind. Instead- it depicts what it would be like if EVERYONE suddenly lost their vision, and I have no doubt that if this ever happened, society would break down just as it does in the film.
My phobias aside- what really made the film work for me are the performances, particularly Julianne Moore's turn as the one person who hasn't been afflicted by the epidemic. Moore has always really been hit & miss for me, but given the right material she's always able to deliver- and her work in BLINDNESS is some of the best she's ever done. I especially loved the way her character evolves over the course of the film. Early in the film, she's this perfect little housewife who does every little thing for her husband (including setting his alarm clock), and appears to be 100% content in her role, but once giving the great responsibility of having sight in a world full of blind people- she steps up in a big way. She's totally selfless throughout, not only caring for her husband, but everyone who needs her. She's one of the most heroic characters I've seen in a while, and Moore is wonderful on the role.
As her newly blind husband, Mark Ruffalo also does solid work. In general, I've always been a fan of his (in particular his turn in ZODIAC), and although he definitely takes a backseat to Moore in the film, he's nonetheless very memorable. Other than Moore, the meatiest role in the film probably goes to Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the predatory "King of Ward 3", who manages to get control of the sanitarium's food supply. In one particularly harrowing scene, he forces the woman of the institution to submit sexually to him & his lackey's, and the ensuing rape scene is very frightening (and supposedly led to several walkouts at Cannes). Bernal is a great actor- and while he plays a despicable character- I never felt that he was simply evil. Rather, in a way hes been somewhat liberated by becoming blind, as he uses it as a license to do whatever he wants- without having to look at himself in the mirror when its all said and done.
One thing I should mention is that the version of BLINDNESS that I saw is different than the version screened at Cannes. After the bad reception, Meirelles re-edited the film somewhat. Supposedly the biggest difference between the cuts is the fact that he removed most of Danny Glover's narration for the new version. As I've never seen the Cannes cut, I can't say whether or not he's improved the film. Overall- I liked the film, although it's not exactly the type of film you enjoy- but rather the type of film that you respect, but never feel the need to watch again.
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