The novel Blindness, by Jose Saramago, was published in Portuguese in 1995 and translated into English in 1997. Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature one year later, in 1998, in no small part due to the success (and the quality) of Blindness. The book is really great, and you should read it. It’s a combination of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Albert Camus’s The Plague, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. All three of those are great books, it’s weird that no one ever talks about how good they are! On that note: you know how people always say that the book is better than the movie? That is almost always the case, but it is definitely the case with dystopian existentialist parables. And it is super true of this dystopian existentialist parable!
“I wish I was blind” is what I kept thinking during this movie! No it’s not. Please, Lord in Heaven, do not make me blind because of my cheap throwaway joke. I love seeing, it’s my total favorite. But also, Lord in Heaven, this movie!
So, Blindness takes place in an unnamed city where a man in traffic discovers suddenly that he is blind. He goes to the doctor, but nothing seems to be wrong with him. Very quickly, this “disease” spreads, and everyone is forced into a military-guarded quarantine in a repuporsed asylum designed by the guy who built the Saw basement. Julianne Moore is not blind, but she says that she is blind so that she can be with her husband Mark Ruffalo. Pretty quickly, there is garbage everywhere, and by garbage I mean human excrement. Also bare butts. Tons of bare butts! Julianne Moore–who can see, but shh, it is a secret!–does her best to help everyone through this traumatic event, but it is clear that there is only so much she can do. And then here comes Gael Garcia Bernal who is so
handsome mean! He declares himself King of Ward 3 (long story) and him and his goons hijack all of the food. He has a gun. Everyone has to give him their jewelry if they want to eat, and then when they run out of jewelry they have to give them their being raped. Eventually, Julianne Moore, fed up and raped, kills him with scissors, and a war begins between the “good” blind people and the “bad” blind people. The war lasts about five minutes. It is surprising how quickly you can end a war by setting a room full of blind people on fucking fire! Everyone runs outside, only to discover that the guards are gone (blind probably–definitely), and so now everyone wanders out into the streets. Julianne Moore leads her ragtag gang of misfits (who just might make it to the playoffs this season!) to her home. Now they are a family! And then one day, the blindness magically disappears. The end.
You could tell Something Is Wrong With Blindness before the movie even came out in theaters. Namely, in the promotional stunt of giving away free dilation sunglasses with the word Blindness printed on them, and then asking fans (fans?) to post pictures of themselves wearing the glasses on-line. Uh, WHAT?
Whoops, Blindness, that is your marketing campaign. (Seriously, Hollywood, get your DICK out of your MOUTH and THINK about these things!) I mean, I understand the difficulties in trying to make a dystopian existential parable into a major motion picture event, but this is basically like if Hollywood tried to promote The Road by distributing free guns to children (one bullet in each gun!) and asking everyone to post their human meat recipes on-line. I guess it’s kind of like that “We All Have AIDS” campaign for Kenneth Cole a couple of years ago, but you know what the difference was with the “We All Have AIDS” ad campaign? There was no difference, it was AWFUL!
Although, the movie didn’t just fuck up the marketing campaign, and I would hate to suggest otherwise. The movie definitely also fucked up the movie. The thing about dystopian existentialist parables is that they are parables. So, when a city in a novel is unnamed, it bears the characteristics of a modern city and probably bears more than a passing resemblance to the city where the author lives, or whatever. When a city is unnamed in a movie it is just WEIRD. It’s one thing to film the movie in Spain, or wherever this was filmed, but does every actor have to have a distinctly separate accent? And why do Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo live in Spain anyway? You begin to see how this falls apart.
Like, if in a dystopian existentialist parable, everyone is blind, then everyone is blind. We can all use our Imaginariums of Dr. Parnassus to picture what that might be like. But when it’s in a movie, it’s a bunch of people that you know very well are not blind pretending to stumble around all over the place. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo and even Danny Glover are all very talented actors, and if you needed three people to fake stumble around in human shit for two hours, you couldn’t pick better. But do you need three people to fake stumble around in human shit for two hours? I’m not sure you do!
Not to mention the fact that wherever the novel had space to explore what the emotional impact was of an epic human catastrophe, the movie basically had the space for this:
If there is one thing Hollywood loves it is seeing Julianne Moore cry. CRY FOR YOUR BANANA, YOU TEARS MONKEY! She has one of the most miserable faces in the game, apparently. But you can see how Julianne Moore crying might be less of an emotional exploration of the tenuousness of the social contract, and more just an exercise in misery. I mean, she cries really well! No one is saying she is not great at crying. But if that was all that was going on here, Saramago could have just said “everyone goes blind and this one lady is super sads about it,” and given the Nobel Prize (NOBEL PRIZE!) to someone else.
This is never more apparent than at the end. In the book, the return of sight is not an intrinsically happy ending. The world has been broken, the darker side of humanity revealed, and it will take a lot of work to rebuild, you know, SOCIETY, as well as rebuilding shattered personal lives. We are left at the precipice of an enormous crossroads now that our eyes have been “opened,” so to speak. Not so in the movie! In the movie it reads like a classic Hollywood happy ending. Everyone can see again. HIGH FIVE.
Any meaning to be gleaned from this movie is force fed to the audience, in complete opposition to the book’s effect. When Mark Ruffalo suggests that the original blind patient’s symptoms resemble something called “agnosia,” Julianne Moore asks “is that related to agnosticism?” OW! MY HEAD! PLEASE, STOP BEATING ME OVER IT!*
That being said, there is one criticism that no one could lobby against this movie: they spared no expense on the shit budget. If you were worried that Hollywood would stand in the way of this movie getting the human shit all over the place that it needed to tell this story, you are wrong. There was no skimping on the Blindness prop-shit budget.
Now, Blindness is not the worst movie ever made if for no other reason than that it is (shit everywhere aside) visually very beautiful. You can see how hard they worked to mirror the experience of this pandemic blindness while still being watchable, and many of the images are captivating. Except for this one, when everyone goes out dancing in the rain:
What is this a dystopian existentialist Zima commercial? A Macy Gray video? Actually, to be fair, that scene was ridiculous (although slightly less ridiculous than the scene a few minutes later when Julianne Moore and some friends take a giggling rain shower on the roof) but it still looks good.
And if there is one thing that is important about dystopian existentialist parables it is that they look good.
Hey Blindness, how many fingers am I holding up?
Get it? Blindness, do you get it?
*It’s not impossible that this line about agnosia-agnosticism was in the book, I don’t remember, it was a long time ago that I read it, but I am still confident that the book was more subtle than this movie log10 to the woof power.