October 6, 2008

REVIEW: Blindness (D)

Maybe two years ago, my brother was telling me about one of the best books he'd ever read. I'd never heard of "Blindness", the novel by Portuguese author José Saramago, but it sounded pretty amazing. Ironically, both of us were disappointed when we soon learned it was going to be adapted into a movie - he out of concern that it wouldn't do justice to the book, and me out of horror after discovering it would star Julianne Moore in the lead role. It takes maybe seven positive elements to get me to a movie starring her these days, and Blindness had five: Mark Ruffalo (Reservation Road), Alice Braga (Redbelt), Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel), Fernando Meirelles, and an exotic shooting location (Montevideo and São Paulo). Five is close enough, I figured - quite incorrectly.

Soon into this movie, I did indeed become overwhelmed with fear of going blind, mostly because I realized that if it got any worse I wouldn't be able to safely flee the theater. Easily one of the worst movies I've seen all year, Fernando Meirelles' Blindness can only be a total nightmare for fans of the book and a complete shock to everyone else. How could such an interesting concept go so horribly wrong?

The title isn't too creative, but it's about as descriptive as it needs to be. One by one, everyone in the world suddenly and mysteriously loses their eyesight. Called the "white sickness" (those who suffer from it only see constant white light), the condition causes a SARS-like panic among the public, and the first major group of victims (all of whom are nameless) is quarantined in an abandoned hospital, or dorm, or factory - whatever that was. An eye doctor (Ruffalo) is one of these early victims, and for reasons unexplained, his wife (Moore) is the one person in the world who is immune to the "infection".

The majority of the movie takes place in the three wards of this asylum, where we witness what amounts to a crazy social experiment reminiscent of "Lord of the Flies". All cultural norms gradually erode away as blind groups in the wards turn on each other in a desperate attempt to stay alive. It's a situation that just oozes potential for studies in leadership, morality, responsibility, and the degradation of human culture, but we're left seeing decaying limbs, human waste, and fat, naked bodies. In easily the most disturbing scene of the movie, an African-American male (an interesting casting note?) from the violent, ruling ward punches a woman to death while raping her. Any remnants of hope I had for mankind were completely dashed when this scene evoked laughs in the audience. This world is over.

In between the disgusting imagery and bad acting throughout the majority of Blindness, we actually don't see much at all. Meirelles does his best to convince us that we're actually going blind, manipulatively using blurred focus, mixed-scene editing, washed-out lighting and, in one overlong scene, a completely black screen backed by exaggerated sound effects. None of this worked, of course, but that dark scene did satisfy my curiosity about whether the movie would be better if I simply closed my eyes (it wasn't). When the group anticlimactically reenters society, Meirelles switches gears, somehow downshifting from a terrible suspense thriller to a senseless horror flick with the comically animalistic human behavior seen in Dawn of the Dead and other recent zombie movies. We're even graced with a topless shower scene, one of many gratuitously "dramatic" moments Meirelles tosses in just to remind us that he's taking this seriously. Sound familiar? M. Night Shyamalan employed the same tactic to disastrous effect in The Happening, a movie which Meirelles should be thankful already firmly holds the title of worst movie of 2008.

[Agh, I've been sitting here for 15 minutes unsuccessfully trying to caption this PERFECT picture with a wicked description! Share yours in the comments...]

What's more surprising? That I made it through this entire movie, or that I still have hope for the future projects of Fernando Meirelles? It would take a lot more than one bad movie - even one as horrendous as Blindness - to cancel out the brilliance of City of God, and there was more than enough potential in The Constant Gardener and this year's overlooked City of Men to keep faith that Meirelles still has talent and artistic vision to spare. This was just a case of a filmmaker completely inhabiting his own picture, from the awkwardly-used cinematography to the carefully constructed deserted city, which in my opinion looked much more realistic in I Am Legend, Children of Men, and even a movie like Vanilla Sky. When every piece of trash and every burning car is perfectly placed in each scene, what is actually a real city location begins to look way too much like a set. Whatever - this is obviously the least among the problems found in Blindness. As it is, you'll be wasting the eyesight that you may still have in sitting through this movie. Your vision (and your hard-earned money) would be much better spent on this year's uplifting Blindsight.

Writing - 5
Acting - 6
Production - 6
Emotional Impact - 4
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5

Total: 31/50= 62% = D


  1. A (D) sounds about right for this. I felt unreserved disdain for Blindness, and, Daniel, you have done a terrific job in explaining just how awful it actually is--bravo!

    And I'm sure Julianne Moore didn't help matters for you.

  2. Great piece, Daniel.

    Well you've confirmed the original slithers of information I was hearing from Cannes.

    Can't say I'm too surprised this film was as bad as you say but still a delight to read your scathing review.

  3. Thanks, Alexander. There were more than enough problems to highlight, thus saving me from lashing out against Julianne Moore once again. But for what's it worth she didn't help things, either. "unreserved disdain". Boy, that sure says it all.

    I was completely detached from this movie, as evident in the low "emotional impact" grade.

    Thank you, Ibetolis. I deliberately avoided reading about the dust-up at Cannes, but let's just say that my low expectations for this were easily met - and then some.

    I find some validation in now seeing a rotten RT score and a terrible box-office draw, but I know there are some respectable people who still enjoyed aspects of this movie, as was the case with The Happening. Oh well, I allow their praise if they allow my criticism.

  4. HA! Before I caught your caption underneath that Blindness still, I was thinking how it's one of the funniest movie pics I've seen in quite some time. Very appropriate to go a long with your review.

    I will brainstorm for a caption!

  5. I'm disappointed in Meirelles, big time. I had high hopes when it was announced that this was going to be good; I'd heard it was re-cut after Cannes, but apparently it didn't help.

  6. Turns out I liked it more than Daniel or Alexander, but not much and I'm finding whatever redeeming quality I'd originally seized upon (relief that it was finally over?) wearing thin after the fact.

    Despite the bad reception at Cannes, I actively wanted to like this movie.

    Ah well, they can't all be winners.

  7. I anxiously await your caption, Fox. Have you seen the movie? It might provide some ammo.

    Rick, you and me both. Incidentally, we seem to be two of the nine people who say City of Men. I know I liked it a bit more than you, so that should probably tell you all you need to know about Blindness.

    Like I said, Craig, I'll understand where specific praise is directed at this movie - cinematography, production design, etc. It's just that none of it worked on me, and I really looked forward to this movie as well.

    I hope Bad Santa is on TV this Christmas season so I can hear that line again in context.

  8. Well Daniel, it appears that you have written one your greatest reviews (since I've been at the site) for a deplorable film. My two of five star rating is actually a gift, since I found it utter torture to sit through for teh reasons you meticulously elaborated on in your superbly structured essay. Of course, one of the few things we don't agree on is Julianne Moore, whose performance in FAR FROM HEAVEN is one of the finest of the new millenium for a lead actress, and other ones in BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE HOURS and SAFE remain excellent portrayals. Yet I could see her rubbing you wrong, and she (lamentably) chooses some very bad films to appear in. She once signed a playbill outside a Broadway theatre for me and she's one of the nicest persons you could ever hope to meet.
    But enough of that, the point is you are dead-on with this review and you have really taken your time to write a really effective piece. Too bad for Meirelles though, I loved CITY OF GOD myself.

  9. Wow, thank you, Sam. I have to say, this didn't take as long to write as I expected because the criticism just tumbled out of me. I'm glad it formed somewhat of a coherent whole.

    Believe it or not, your appreciation of Julianne Moore almost brings down my disdain for her performances (and not necessarily her, as I'm sure she's as nice you mention). The reason is that you admit her flawed work and celebrate only the best that she offers. Truth be told, I caught part of Far From Heaven on TV again the other day and I hardly even noticed her in it, which is saying something. That was a tailor-made role for her.

    I have a long way to go before I can enjoy her in a movie, but your well-reasoned praise for her is actually pretty convincing.

  10. I loved the book, admire Meirelles a hell of a lot, I don’t hate Moore….so I look forward to whenever it when I can see this film, but I shall approach with extreme caution.

  11. Well I like that you still give Meirelles the benefit of the doubt considering you weren't too taken by City of Men.

    Knowing you, I'd still see this movie despite the terrible reviews. You'll have fun writing about it...

  12. Great review Daniel! Yes I did indeed love this book; but for many reasons, and now, thankfully, your review, I shall avoid seeing the movie.

    I was working in a bookstore when the English translation of the novel first came out, and was intrigued by the fact that it was already listed as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (in the author's native Portuguese). As I was, sadly, not even aware that there was a Nobel for Literature, I figured I better read it, to be in the know. It was definitely one of most fascinating and brilliant books I had ever read, and I also really appreciated the chance to discuss with my co-workers and friends the confusing writing style and complex themes explored in the book. Several years later, I was happy to learn that Saramago was reported as saying he was unable to understand how his novel could be adapted properly to film, and was therefore refusing to ever sell the rights. What a shame that someone convinced him otherwise.

    However, regarding Julianne Moore, whom I generally despise: I have to agree with Sam that she was indeed excellent in Safe, and carried that whole film superbly.

  13. Hmm, so the blame actually comes back to Saramago for selling out. Why would he say that and then give it away? Ridiculous. Well I hope he's happy with the result.

  14. Well Danny, Meirelles didn’t have much to do with “City of Men” besides being one of 5 producers, so. He’s still tops in my good book!

  15. There you go with you and your "facts" again, Nick. :-P

    Excellent point. I guess City of Men was just stylistically similar to CoG that I throw the credits around willy-nilly!

  16. I've believed City of God and The Constant Gardner to be overrated, so this is sort of strike three for Meirelles with me, but I know that is a minority opinion.

    Joshihno, long time, no see; I hope you come by Coleman's Corner again. :-)

  17. Of I'll bite. Blindness is outstanding. Daniel clearly doesn't know what he is talking about. Good grief he was raving about How to Lose Friends and Influence People, which is a complete waste of film.

    Down with Daniel!
    Up with Blindness!

  18. That's fine, Alexander, I love fellow contrarians. I don't like apple pie, so there.

    Some contrarians, however, like Matt Gamble, are clearly mistaken in their positions. I'll refrain from making a tasteless blind joke about your praise for this movie, but let's just say everyone I know can excusably like three bad movies (one of mine is Anaconda). Blindness is a serious first strike for you, pal...

  19. You probably hated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly too, fascist!

    I eagerly await the opportunity to skewer your inevitable A+ review of Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

  20. Is Matt Gamble joking, Danny?

    Or did someone piss in his cornflakes?

    Early in the morning...?

  21. Yes, all in good fun, M. It's a local thing...I think.

    As matter of fact, sir, DBB has received exemplary praise on these pages!

    Regarding Chihuahua, well somebody had to like it.

  22. Yes, it is all in good fun. Though I did like Blindness quite a bit and I am surprised Daniel didn't. Usually he has good taste in movies. :)

  23. Hee hee.

    Good to know. Just looking out for my friend Danny.

    That's it. That's all...

  24. If Matt is my villainous rival, Miranda, you're my trusty sidekick.


    Heh heh...

    Since I got in the door today I've been trying to think of a suitable analogy. You never see films where the man and the woman are both hot (cuz we are, of course...) but they're also just good friends.

    So I was thinking...BOGIE and BACALL? Well, you're much more attractive than Bogart ever was, Danny.

    Naturally I would be THE PERFECT BACALL. (Right down to the voice...)

    But they were married.

    NICK CHARLES and NORA CHARLES? (Also known as WILLIAM POWELL and MYRNA LOY.) Well, I was never really a fan of hers - and they were married too. On film.


    I love that character SO MUCH. Tracy is A LOT like me. I'd kill to play her in an updated version. Maybe in a stage revival?

    We'll see. I could easily be a blonde green eyed version of Kate and I think you'd be the perfect Jimmy Stewart, Danny.

    Plus she (re)marries CARY GRANT at the end.

    So they really were good friends and trusty sidekicks.

    Sound like a good deal? Maybe I'll call you Mac from now on...

  26. Jimmy Stewart always seemed so awkwardly lanky to me, like he wasn't comfortable at his height or something.

    How about Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday? That way I could be cool Cary Grant AND hilarious Cary Grant.

  27. Hmmmm...

    But Walter and Hildy ARE ex spouses, Danny - and you're given reason to believe that they're going to give it another shot romantically at the end.

    After all, she's not engaged any more AND she's going to stay at the newspaper and write. Walter has to have her there...and not just for the job either.

    I'm not very much like Kate. AT ALL. But I'm even less like Roz. Though I do admire them both greatly.

    PLUS Roz is a brunette. Kate I can relate to because I'd be a lot more red if I didn't dye all this voluminous hair.

    BUT WAIT...

    There was a remake in the 80s of HGF that starred KATHLEEN TURNER and BURT REYNOLDS. Can't remember the name offhand, though.

    I know Burt ain't no CARY. LIKE...EVER.

    But Kathleen and I, well...

    We've got the same voice, same long wavy hair, the same legs...

    OK, I can live with thst. If you don't like Burt (who does any more, anyway?), then we'll split the difference. I'll be Kathleen and you can be Cary. Just from different versions of the same film.

    WOW. That was close. I didn't think I would be able to finesse that...

  28. lol, great navigating there! Burt as Cary? Wow, like never. I had no idea there was a remake...with Burt Reynolds?

  29. Yeah. Just looked it up now.

    I've seen it on TV a couple of times.

    You have to understand this, Danny. They will PROBABLY NEVER make a film with that source material that is as good as HGF. But there have been a variety of remakes over the years.

    This one is called SWITCHING CHANNELS. Filmed in 1988 in Toronto. They're not newspaper writers. (It is the late 80s, after all).

    They're TV journalists.

    But it is ABSOLUTELY the EXACT same story even though they've changed the characters' names. The woman is a prominent newsperson. Has an excellent reputation. Tough as nails. Knows how to get a story.

    She's divorced from a guy that's her boss that she used to be crazy about. Now she's left him in the dust. She's found a great looking rich guy that she adores. So she's decided that she wants out of the spotlight and to relax for the first time in her life.

    So KATHLEEN is HILDY. Only in this version her name is CHRISTY COLLERAN.

    Burt is John L. Sullivan (or Sully).

    CHRISTOPHER REEVE is the bumbling gorgeous rich guy (AKA the RALPH BELLAMY part) BLAINE BINGHAM.

    VERY INTERESTING story behind this. I know all about this because I grew up as a huge KATHLEEN TURNER fan. But this is actually rather amusing.

    I saw Burt on a talk show a few years back when someone asked him about her. He rolled his eyes and actually fought to control himself.

    "KATHLEEN TURNER? She tried to get me fired EVERY SINGLE DAY."

    Ha ha.

    What happened was...

    KATHLEEN signed to do the picture. MICHAEL CAINE was actually the guy who was supposed to do the Walter/Sully part. She adored him and she was really looking forward to working with him.

    Just weeks before they were set to do the movie, MICHAEL CAINE dropped out and Burt replaced him. I don't have any idea why KATHLEEN hated him as much as she did. He really isn't a nice guy (from what I understand) and he's not particularly well liked around town.

    But...as far as I know, she had never met him AND SHE NEVER WANTED TO WORK WITH HIM. EVER.

    So she did everything imaginable to get out of that. But they refused to let her go. Have to remember. She was AN ENORMOUS FILM STAR in the late 80s. They would not have wanted her to walk.

    So she had no choice. But she was NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. KATHLEEN is certainly an intelligent, articulate and ambitious woman. She doesn't hold back. Doesn't suffer fools gladly. Doesn't give a damn if you like what she's got to say or not. You'll live.

    I guess it would be no exaggeration to state that it was a contentious shoot (especially for ol Burt) and that it probably served their characters rather well. They were divorced and supposed to be involved in hot arguments all the time.

    There was only one incident I heard about in detail. She talked about it and this will certainly give you an idea of what it was like on set.

    The director was trying to build up a big head of steam. Attempting to have that kind of swift back and forth from HSF. All that gleeful hard edged repartee.

    KATHLEEN was a very skilled actor. She could do it easily and she loved it. Burt couldn't keep up. They kept reshooting but he just wasn't able to do it. He kept forgetting his lines or blowing them. Granted, it's not an easy thing to do. But it's not like he's particularly talented.

    So most of the afternoon is gone and basically they've done nothing because Burt can't get the thing together.

    With each passing minute, KATHLEEN is getting more and more frustrated. Her blood is starting to boil. She knows he'll never be able to get it right. How long are they going waste time?

    Finally, the director thinks of a solution. He'll tear the dialogue apart and, instead of all this heightened whiz bang stuff, he'll just shoot Burt's dialogue LINE BY LINE. He'll do a line. Cut. Print. Then do another line. Cut. Print. It just won't be in response to KATHLEEN. They'll edit it together later.

    So then the director asked if there were any objections.

    (Here it comes...)

    KATHLEEN had one. She went off on a rather big tirade about artistic commitment, talent and ability. Then she said she had never heard of anything so completely ridiculous in her entire life as a bunch of dialogue being torn apart and delivered line by line.

    "THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT A SCENE," she finally announced purposefully.

    So you can just imagine what was going on there...

    I'm rather fond of the movie myself. It's not great art and it's certainly NOT HSF. Nothing will ever top that. But it is an entertaining trifle and KATHLEEN is really good.

    Actually found it one Sunday afternoon when a boyfriend was over. Neither of us had seen it. Didn't know it was on. But I loved KATHLEEN so we watched it.

    When it was over (the ending is really funny), he turned to me and said, "All things considered, it wasn't bad."

    HELL NO. The cinematography was crappy. But that was before most top of the line productions started filming in Toronto. Otherwise it's rather fun.

    So there you have it. You should find it one day, Danny.

    It may surprise you...

  30. Fantastic story, M. Seriously, this is why Cinematic Passions thrives. You not only have this knowledge, but you know how to share it in the most interesting ways. If I ever do see this movie, I know what I'll be thinking about the whole time!

  31. Thanks, sugar.

    Appreciation is essential to my lionhearted nature...

  32. Yes, it is all in good fun. Though I did like Blindness quite a bit and I am surprised Daniel didn't. Usually he has good taste in movies.Watch Blindness Movie Here Free.I like this movie very much.

  33. Thanks for commenting, ronik. Glad we agree on many movies...

    But with all due respect, I'm going to have to decline your offer here!


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