Wednesday, October 8, 2008
directed by Fernando Meirelles
written by Don McKellar based on the book by José Saramago
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga and Danny Glover
Blindness is probably best viewed as an interesting, yet failed experiment. I haven't read Saramago's novel, which is the basis of the film. But from what I've gathered, it's less of a full on narrative novel and more of a meditation on a concept (that concept being Blindness). Does that make for a good film adaptation? Who knows? I think that film, as a visual medium, should be more...I dunno visual, dontcha think? I'm tired of hearing "This or that won't translate well to film." I'm not even going to give foreign films a pass when I make the following statement. All films seem to have a trouble of breaking free of traditional narrative conventions and trying to be more visually expressive. Stanley Kubrick always said that you know you have a good film if you can take off the sound and still watch it coherently. Conversely, he said that a film that you can still watch and understand without the visuals is usually a bad one. Not sure I agree with such a blanket statement. What's my point? Meirelles actually tries something here (gasp!). Does it work? Not really.
The illness in the movie that causes people to go blind is called the white sickness. Whereas traditional blindness causes people to see nothing but black, the stricken see in milky whiteness. Some reviewers are saying that the milky white cinematography is too obvious and on-the-nose. Isn't it kind of unavoidable though, as unpleasant as it may be? Just saying. The cinematography is sure to be a divisive aspect of this film. Consider the rape scene (scenes?). And although it is heavily obscured by the shaky camera work of DP Cesar Chalone, rivals the infamous Monica Belluci rape scene in Irreversible as far as how difficult it is to watch.
Narratively, this film has a lot to answer for. I really want to read the book and see if the sudden character change for the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore) is more richly earned than it is here. Watching the first moments of the film, before everyone goes blind, I sort of enjoyed watching Moore and Ruffalo's characters interact. I think there might exist a better movie about the husband and wife Moore and Ruffalo were playing at the beginning of the movie. About how there's strife and masked anguish beneath Moore's bumbling hausfrau and Ruffalo's settled masculinity. We all know that Moore does marital tension very well. Wasn't there just a hint of seething condescension when the doctor was responding to his wife's query about the etymology of the word "agnostic?" I love it. Moore was so fun for those seven or so minutes.
Also, Gael Garcia Bernal's character (none of the characters are named. More on that later) was one I had trouble believing. Yes, terrible situations often drive people to do terrible things. But a lot of what was going on with this guy seemed very unmotivated, and I could be alone here. Collecting jewelry and other goods from the ward inmates in exchange for food? I'm sorry. Even in the midst of the most powerful greed, this just doesn't make sense. Especially when everyone is blind and there's no means to trade goods in the first place. There's no use for anything. I had trouble buying his desire for (and the inmates reluctance to give up) prized possessions. The sex trade I at least understand, as deplorable as it is. But I get that.
The narrative convention of having the characters remain unnamed. Yes, that's the way it was in the novel. But here, it just seems silly and they don't nearly commit to make enough of a point of the fact that the characters are unnamed, so why bother? It's kind of like how they had the credits spoken in the old Fahrenheit 451 movie. Yeah, I get it. But that doesn't mean it works.
Not to say that there weren't aspects of the film I appreciated. I appreciated never revealing the cause of the blindness. I personally have never been one to walk out of a movie and say "Well, I don't like how they didn't explain..." I firmly believe that everything that's there is what you need. Movies (especially American movies) will forever give you more information than you need to piece something together in your mind. They never give you less. I don't want to know why the birds went crazy in Bodega Bay and I don't want to know what caused the blindness.
The film is wisely cast and acted, for the most part. Moore wades as best as possible through the characterization of the doctor's wife and its aforementioned problems and Ruffalo is serviceable as always. Bernal, a long time favorite of mine, does his best to spin gold out of his role. But the movie doesn't really know what it wants from him, and his speedy departure is a sure sign of that. And Danny Glover...I'm getting a little annoyed with the pigeon-holing of black actors into these thankless archetypes, one of which is the Nostradamus figures (tsk tsk Meirelles). All I can say is that thankfully, he's not on screen much and it's not terribly distracting. Blindness is a film I'm sure I will have to revisit again to fully form an opinion of it...but because I know what I'm in for, I'm loath to do so.