DVD Release Date:  February 10, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  October 3, 2008
Rating:  R (for language, strong sexual content/nudity, and violence including sexual assaults)
Genre:  Drama, Thriller, Adaptation
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Fernando Meirelles
Cast:  Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga

One of the best ways narrative art can comment on society is to propose a far-fetched (even impossible) “what if” scenario, and then use that basis to explore the human condition under extreme circumstances (director Stanley Kubrick did this better than anybody, and David Fincher is a worthy contemporary). 

But for the metaphor to work, at some level it has to resonate.  Even if what’s happening would never happen, how it all happens must ring true.  Blindness is one such attempt at allegorical social commentary.  Unfortunately, it is completely and utterly preposterous.

In a present-day unnamed American metropolis, an unprecedented medical crisis unfolds:  people are inexplicably going blind.  First it’s one person, then another, and over several days it’s a handful.  The cause is unknown and no cotangent link can be determined.  It’s simply happening.  The city acts quickly and quarantines the victims.  A plausible, even expected development, yet it’s the last moment when disbelief in the overall scenario can be suspended.  From there, Blindness doesn’t merely stretch credibility; it’s patently absurd.

In such a quarantine, one would naturally expect the victims to be placed in a medical facility where research would be conducted and the people cared for.  In Blindness, the exact opposite happens.  Like Jews sent off to Krakow, the blind are sent to a rundown facility with no running water, food is scarce and rationed, and no caretakers are provided.  The only monitors are military guards who surround the facility perimeter that has been barbed-wired and barricaded like a concentration camp.  Beyond that, people are left to their own devices and without any basic resources.

As the number of quarantined victims increases exponentially, the facility’s culture descends into utter chaos.  Depraved animal instincts become the norm as the most crude and vile version of Darwinistic philosophy takes over.  No one extends a helping hand, gesture of compassion, or even an instinct toward survival.  Rather than uniting in crisis, everyone turns on each other.  It’s as if the loss of sight automatically leads to the loss of sanity.

The facility looks like an asylum overrun by the patients where people walk around in a daze, defecating where they may.  Violence, sexual assaults and murders erupt as this closed-off culture devolves into pure anarchy.  The depiction of it all isn’t just offensive; it’s intellectually insulting.  Even if an entire city were struck by a mysterious blindness, this would never happen.

So why, then, do the filmmakers expect us to buy it?  One can only guess it’s because they themselves have bought into it.  Or if they haven’t, their passion to indict humanity from the most extreme, far-left, fearmongering worldview imaginable has caused them to suspend basic logic.  Blindness is not a film of challenging thoughts or deep insight; rather, it’s so agenda-driven (bludgeoning us with its “We only need a leader with vision” sermon) that it loses touch with any semblance of complex realities.  For a film that’s supposed to be about how blind we are to our own true natures, it’s a tall irony indeed how blind the filmmakers are to their own outrageous (even hateful) biases.

It’s especially a shame as director Fernando Meirelles’ previous films (City of God, The Constant Gardener) are perceptive and credible.  They, too, explore extreme circumstances, but do so in a real-world context.  Here, it’s as if our current culture is a callous, dystopian “Big Brother” society that is just one crisis away from revealing its full Fascist reality.  To make that statement about a third-world military dictatorship would be one thing; to make it of contemporary America (even with all its challenges, faults and hypocrisies) is something else entirely—i.e. completely ridiculous.

The press materials for the film describe it as a journey that “shines a light on the dangerous fragility of society and the exhilarating spirit of humanity.”  To which I say:  bull.  Go blow that pretentious, elite hogwash somewhere else.  This may play in the arty bubble of the Cannes Film Festival (where it premiered), but it provides no substance to (and therefore has no place in) any basic intellectual examination about the state of modern civilization.

Or to put it simply, Blindness is the type of conceited, preachy and odious indie filmmaking that drives people who dare give it a shot right back to the safe refuge of mindless, studio blockbusters.  Artistic snobs can blame the unsophisticated tastes of the common man for the propensity of dumb movies that Hollywood churns out (and they’d partially be right), but films on the opposite end of the spectrum—like Blindness—are equally responsible. 

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Some drinking of wine, but overall minimal.
  • Language/Profanity:  While not constant, most profanities are used throughout.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Nudity of both sexes, including frontal, but always in callous ways (example: blind people, devoid of care, walk around naked in a stupor).  An act of infidelity is depicted in fairly explicit terms.  Multiple rapes occur (see next section).
  • Violence/Other:  Multiple rapes occur, even simultaneously.  Once scene could be best described as an orgy of rape.  It all occurs in very dark shadows so, visually, it’s not brazenly explicit.  Still, with what is shown added with what is heard—and that the moments happen at length rather than briefly—it should be categorized as explicit.  Stabbings and gun violence also occur, and the moments are fairly brutal.

Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of  the "Steelehouse Podcast,” along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to the "Steelehouse Podcast” through iTunes.