The Dark Aspects of Human Nature (Blindness reviewed)


Blindness (Canada/Brazil/Japan, 2008)

Seen: Sunday, 12th April 2009 (cinema)
Runtime: 121′
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal
Production House: Rhombus Media, O2 Filmes, Bee Vine Pictures, Alliance Films, Ancine, Asmik Ace Entertainment, BNDES, Corus Entertainment, Fox Filmes do Brasil, GAGA Communications
Plot: A mysterious and highly infectious illness is making everybody blind. One woman seems to be immune to it, but is forced by circumstances to pretend otherwise.

Scene From The Film
As usual, the trailer is in my film spotting post.

Impressions In Short
Very weird!

More About the Film
When I read the reviews I thought this might be a film that was marketed at the wrong audience. Having seen it I’m pretty sure that was the case, only I really have no idea what would be the natural target audience for a film like this. I don’t think I was quite the right audience for it either, though I think me and Kin were still a slightly better audience for it than the rest of the people in the cinema - I didn’t get the impression they were particularly engrossed in it ;) I, on the other hand, was so perplexed with its bizarreness that it sort of had me hooked, just perhaps for the wrong reasons ;)
The trailer looks like it’s some sort of thriller/horror kind of movie. It’s not. I suppose it has some elements of those genres, but it’s really not that kind of film. On the other hand it’s not really an art house film either.
It’s a film about regressing to a very primitive form of existence. A world with no hygiene (toilets and bathrooms used by many people can be rather disgusting places even when the users can see, so what are they like when the users cannot?), a world where you can take off your clothes in the middle of a street because nobody can see you anyway, a world where distribution of food becomes a major problem and so on. Most of the film happens in a hospital where people with the illness have been locked away to avoid infecting the rest of the population. One ward takes control of the food supply and makes the other wards pay for food in various ways. Eventually they ask for sexual favours in return for food.
It’s not all depressing though. The reviews I read seemed to indicate it’s a very depressing film with nothing uplifting about it. And yes, it definitely has more dark than light, but it does have lighter moments. When you’re reduced to such a primitive form of existence, love and friendship can happen much more honestly and that’s in the film too.
What I thought the film lacked was humour. It had some fantastic opportunities for humour - maybe the kind of humour only me, Kin and Andreja seem to find funny, but that’s still humour ;-P In fact they did have some of it scripted, but it always seemed to fall a bit flat. There was for example a scene in which they’re trying to establish how many people in the ward want to fight with the other ward and the leader says “Everyone who wants to fight, raise your hand”. So they raise their hands and then realise that was rather silly as nobody can see their raised hands anyway. There were also many opportunities for a darker, more sarcastic sort of humour. Even without changing the lines and situations much, that dark and unsettling humour was there, it just needed to be set up better. I think that had they allowed themselves more with the humour, they could have gotten away with dwelling more on the heavier themes of the film without making it too depressing to watch.
I loved Gael Garcia Bernal in this. Haven’t seen him for a while and although this was a very small part (that was a little disappointing - I was hoping for more ;-P), it was fun seeing him. Or actually maybe “fun” is the wrong word :] He’s disgustingly creepy and vile in this. While I’ve seen him doing plenty of morally doubtful characters, this is the first time I’ve seen him do something quite this vile. I think also the first time I’ve seen him do anything in English, but I digress… For me he livened up the film quite a bit. Some of what I was missing in the film was in his performance.
I’m probably going to become even more incoherent now :] Talking about this film is quite difficult (almost all me and Kin could come up with after the screening was “that was weird!” lol), but I think that for me the film was a little too clinical. I felt it should have been much more naturalistic. I mean that’s what it’s really about - the dirt, the sweat, the grime… The cinematographer was playing around a lot with the colour white cause the blindness everyone suffered from was a whiteness rather than a blackness. But white is also the colour of cleanness and I found that a visual choice like that made everything feel too clinical and the dirt and grime began feeling Hollywoodish to me (maybe I’m alone in this, but usually when I see Hollywood films I think “aha, fake dirt!” ;) ).
Apart from the cinematography, something that seemed off to me was how people related to each other physically. It was a situation where all conventional barriers were down. “Personal space” is an entirely different concept in such conditions. For example in this film very often the only way they could move around in groups without losing anybody was by keeping their hand on the shoulder of the person in front. Touching and being touched was a common thing. And yet I kept feeling some sort of squeamishness about it.
Part of the reason Bernal livened things up for me was that to me he really seemed dirty and grimy and without all that squeamishness ;) It made a lot of difference. He was also pretty dramatic in his vileness. I once wrote about how scenes from a film can “haunt me”. With this film, it’s not really a scene, it’s more like a line he says. It’s one of the “food for sex scenes”. He recognises the voice of the woman he’s going to abuse as the same woman, who was being mutinous with him a week or so before. The moment of recognition is marked by “Oh Lady!” and for some reason that line is haunting me lol I just so started dreading what he was going to do after he said that…
While I’m at the “food for sex scenes”, I’ll just say I thought they were shot really well. They’re very creepy and yet they’re not that drastic in what actually gets shown on camera. It’s what doesn’t quite get shown that gives you the creeps ;)
And finally, another totally random comment I haven’t managed to fit in anywhere else - I thought it was very interesting to see how people organised themselves into structures and assigned roles for each other. That was told really well. One of my favourite bits was when a man who was blind before the spread of the illness ends up in one of the wards and how his skills are put to use - he can read and write in Braille, something nobody else in the building can do.
I wonder how close the film is to the novel. It would be interesting to read I think.

I don’t want to put anyone off seeing this (despite having very mixed feelings about it I was glad I saw it), but on the other hand I really doubt this film is most people’s cup of tea.

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