): Fernando Meirelles
' Blindness was adapted from the novel written by Portuguese Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago. The novel follows a singular woman who somehow goes uninfected when a sudden, freakish plague of "white blindness" strikes the planet, leaving her the sole witness to moral and sanitary decay and atrocities unmentionable in a prison for the infected. What was a poetic, exhaustively-brilliant piece of fiction has now become a clunky, clattering, ever-collapsing film of bludgeoning rhetoric.
The woman (Julianne Moore
) tags along with her ophthalmologist husband (Mark Ruffalo
) when he is struck by the blindness and sent to the initial holding facility for the infected. Visually plagued by random flashes of pure white, the film hams up Saramago's eloquent metaphor as the wards of the facility become factions. One splinter supports a dictator (Gael García Bernal
) and an accountant (Maury Chaykin) who garner the entirety of the rations supplied by the army. Possessions and eventually women are traded for meager portions as the nameless woman begins to consider her tolerance in the face of a shadowy, violent orgy that even Argentine provocateur Gaspar Noé might find a little too much. Article continues below
Everything's a mess, and credit production designer Tule Peake for making the facility gradually decay from livable to a believable Gomorrah. But Don McKellar's script often airs on the side of exposition, unable to translate the subtleties of Saramago's language to a visual medium. The actors, who show a beguiling dedication, border on laughable as they struggle to both comprehend and articulate the filmmaker's misguided aim. Meirelles, whom we last saw directing Ralph Fiennes
in The Constant Gardener, seems oddly unfocused and adrift in the film's soggy melodrama. Even the talented cinematographer César Charlone, who has worked with Meirelles since before City of God, doesn't know how to yield his rambunctious camera to the subdued material.
Things become grimmer, production-wise, when a riot causes the facility to burn down and the inmates find that the manned gates have been abandoned by afflicted soldiers. Out of the madhouse and into the streets they go, finding little more than other packs of roaming, hungry humans. Cannibalism makes no outward appearance, but watching Moore go ravenous on a piece of chorizo and a pack of dogs feeding on a corpse's entrails get the point across. The woman's group, which includes her husband, a boy, an elderly man (Danny Glover
), and a prostitute (Alice Braga
) amongst others, search for the ophthalmologist's home.
The term "unadaptable" comes up often in literary adaptations but is rarely justified. Think of all the people that said William Burrough's Naked Lunch was without hope until they met a Canadian named Cronenberg. [In fairness, many still say that. -Ed.] But sometimes it's true: A work of literature is based so intrinsically on the medium itself that to adapt it is to wipe the slate clean and reduce the story to happenstance. You could chalk it up to a bad fit seeing as Meirelles is a director of heavy movement and action and Blindness, in literary form anyway, is a work of crushing political theorizing, though that excuses too much.
Its failure certainly has nothing to do with the patently ridiculous claim from the National Federation of the Blind that the film treats the blind like "monsters." If it's one thing the film and the novel have in common it's the fact that the characters' behaviors have to do with our primal reactions to true catastrophe, not our reaction to disability. It relieves the film from pitiful outcries, but it is little comfort when faced with an utter disappointment from an otherwise daring director.