The premise of the movie is that select people (shown in specific incidences) are going blind, seeing white instead of darkness. A nice quote is, "I feel like I'm swimming in milk." The disorder proves to be extremely contagious, and soon everyone is swimming in milk, with the exception of Julianne Moore's character who is inexplicably not stricken by the oddball plague. The first few people afflicted are put in stark isolation prisons, left to fend for themselves in their "wards." Suffering neglect and brutality, they are literally out of sight and out of mind. The quarantine camps become very symbolic of how blindly we humans go into things.
It doesn't matter that the reason everyone goes blind is never established or that the weird acceptance of being blind is radically subdued. What permeates the movie is the character study of the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore), who pretends to go blind to stay with her afflicted husband (Mark Ruffalo). Blindness focuses on her decisions to be helpful and sometimes incapacitated. As the only person in the camp who can see, she chooses martyrdom so many times it adds frustration to any empathy. It's Moore's character's duty to lead only when needed. It emphasizes the theory that when left to their own devices, humans rely on gut feelings and primal instincts.
Blindness unfolds like a fairy-tale-meets-Midnight-Express. In fact, it's so in "make believe land" that when Eye Patch (Danny Glover) tells the others in the ward of the saddening effect the blindness plague has on the whole world, he does so with a bedtime-story inflection.
After some unrest among the blind in different wards, the movie takes a Lord of the Flies turn. People will give up anything valuable, including sex to survive. Undercurrents of anarchy, socialism and democracy run through the blatant abuse handed out by and to the inmates. There are futile stabs at compassion. Near the end, the film resembles a contagion-gone-haywire zombie movie...my favorite part.
The actors reliably steer their way through the film's sometimes meandering path. Ruffalo does his soft-spoken, understanding, wuss role here. Moore does her I-feel-the-world's-pain role. Among the fill-the-gaps-character actors Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga and Maury Chaykin. People are never called by names and the credits keep their anonymity to the end: Doctor, doctor's wife, man with eye-patch, woman with dark glasses etc.
Director Meirelles has two movies under his belt that I have seen, City of God and The Constant Gardener, and proves again to have supreme artistic vision. The film has a European feel and like the unnamed characters, was shot in an anonymous city. The cinematography and the moving camera with washed out celluloid (resembling grainy black and white) adds an almost itchy feeling to an already creepy environment of quarantined victims living in ultra squalor. Meirelles is a genius for setting up dramatic tricks: It's as though he adds life to scenes only to pluck it away right before your very eyes. An extremely nice touch is the white-out between scenes.
Blindness is ultimately a testament to the human spirit and the unnecessary evils of the world. As a straight forward story it has a few plot gaps and inconsistencies, but it's a voyage of one compelling scene after another. Witnessing what these people go through will make you feel the grime and dirt, but thanks to a rather uplifting ending, you might feel somewhat cleansed by the time you leave the theater.Blindness ★★★✩✩
Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Alice Braga. Director: Fernando Meirelles. Rated R.