Initially mesmerizing, but increasingly pretentious, Blindness loses its way from becoming a shattering drama to behold.
From Portuguese Nobel Prize laureate Jose Saramago's tome, helmer Fernando Meirelles illustrates rather than illuminates the tragic cost of humans losing their vision. It's a challenging picture that is taxing without too much resonance for this type of dystopic allegory. The director works with screenwriter Don McKellar (on hand as a petty thief) to elicit something harsh and vague, for the most part, even with something more enlightening and less awkward in the last reel.
Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Danny Glover, the film is noted for its longer passages than Meirelles previously more stunning efforts, including The Constant Gardner.
A devastatingly rapid outbreak of "white blindness" is occurring in an unnamed mostly English-speaking city, that strikes a driver and his wife before moving on to Ruffalo's opthamologist, just identified as Doctor.
Moore is the Doctor's wife, in this harrowing subjugation of humanity, who somehow isn't afflicted by the massive epidemic. She's clandestinely among those in a desolate mental ward where a government quarantine is established.
Blindness diminishes in its midsection from its ominous opening act with red traffic lights and unexpected horrors, as desperation forms from deterioration in the prison-like ward. Some may recall similar plights in novels like "Lord of the Flies" and "Animal Farm". Bernal is the ruthless refugee who casts his dark shadow, especially when it concerns female detainees.
Moore brings some of the steely resolve that she did in the more riveting, well-crafted Children of Men, as a small group, including Glover's black eye-patched old man is decisively taken to a safe asylum. Glover also provides prolonged narration as a aside to the sounds of wistful lamenting or any strange existential or askew occurrences. An otherworldly feeling is palpable from the lensing (filming occurred in Brazil and Uruguay, as well as Ontario) that captures the physical notion of "swimming in milk" from the aseptic to the foulness inhabited by the nameless characters.
If Meirelles and McKellar fail to make Saramago's prose a diligently devastating cinematic powerhouse than the unrestrained, burdened Moore and the subdued elegance almost make this stagy conceit a little easy on the eyes.