Director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God,” “The Constant Gardner“) opens “Blindness,” his adaptation of Jose Saramago‘s allegorical novel, in heavy traffic. Moving from close-ups of traffic lights to an overhead view of the thickening congestion, he zeroes in on a Japanese man who has suddenly gone blind.
In most cases of blindness, everything goes dark. For this first blind man (Yusuke Iseya), everything has gone white. He feels like he is swimming in a sea of milk As this blindness, christened “The White Sickness” by the health department, spreads through contagious contact, victims are quarantined in a prisonlike compound, where they are left to fend for themselves.
As their numbers increase, the quarantined are divided into three wards, two of which develop into warring tribes with conflicting ideologies. The first is a democracy headed by the doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), who is the only sighted person in the compound, as she feigned blindness to remain near her husband. The other is a dictatorship commandeered by the King of Ward Three (Gael Garcia Bernal), who has appropriated the food supply and metes it out in starvation rations to those who can pay for it with jewelry or sex.
Meirelles and cinematographer Cesar Charlone use several visual approaches to communicate the world of the sightless. At times, everything is flooded in bright white light, giving the effect of a ghostly world seen through an electrical mist. At the other end of the spectrum, the chaos and horror of the mass rape scene is achieved by illuminating the near-total darkness with the occasional flare of candlelight.
The cast does excellent ensemble work, with each of its members contributing to the overall effect rather than seeking opportunities for star turns. Moore, who proved her mettle as an action star in “The Forgotten,” continues to show there is more than one way to hold down the center of a picture. Eschewing the overt heroics of Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley, Moore leads her blind legions out of the cave using nothing but clear vision and common sense.
Audiences who want their stories to make scientific sense might be taken back by such a preposterous idea as blindness being a contagious disease, but the blindness that concerns Nobel Prize-winning author Saramago is metaphorical. In the author’s view, Such a contagion can be cured if the few people who are not blind have the guts to do something about it.
Meirelles adds another perspective, that the epidemic might be a good thing if, by being thrown into the darkness together, we may once again recognize the human family to which we all belong.
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