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Darkness visible



Out of sight: Ruffalo and Moore in Blindness.
  • Out of sight: Ruffalo and Moore in Blindness.

Blindness (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

You may worry that the moviefication of serious, political, page-long sentences from a Portugese Nobel laureate's best-known novel will translate into earnestly leaden Oscar bait. You are wise to do so.

Just bear in mind the inevitability of a movie version of Blindness, Jos Saramago's 1995 novel in which, save for one woman, a city's entire population suddenly, inexplicably, goes blind and hell accordingly breaks loose.

This movie version of Blindness, adapted by director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and actor-writer Don McKellar (not much of note, really, except an awkward performance in Blindness), has a particularly contemporary if blurry and dimming view of the world. It appreciates, for instance, that everything is DIY nowadays: zines, home improvement, the apocalypse.

The latter has been a favorite in movies for a while, but lately things have escalated. How Blindness ranks on the DIY-catastrophe scale between 28 Days Later and The Happening probably can not be determined objectively, but you can at least feel safe calling it the best arty disaster thriller starring Julianne Moore since Children of Men. Of course, it is the only arty disaster thriller starring Julianne Moore since Children of Men.

She plays that one woman who can see, and it's a fine, variously self-degrading performance, if not an entirely memorable one. Her husband, played by Mark Ruffalo, in a fine, variously groping performance and an importantly humanizing one, is an ophthalmologist who has no idea what's going on and can't really help any of the victims but can empathize when he becomes one of them.

Soon they find themselves quarantined by glib military thugs in an abandoned hospital, with new arrivals streaming in daily. One is Danny Glover, who gathers the group around him and narrates what he knows of the world outside that "either the panic spread the blindness or the blindness spread the panic," and lets everyone listen to a gentle tune on his handheld radio. Then there's the possibly miscast Gael Garca Bernal, who emerges as the menacing opportunist and self-proclaimed "King of Ward Three," hoarding food and selling it off for cash and valuables and, when those run out or simply prove worthless, for sex. As you'd expect, mass blindness brings the shape of human nature into sharp relief.

This leaves open the question of whether Moore's character is better or worse off for being able to see all the squalor and misery surrounding her. But the movie has an unfortunate way of making that question more intellectual than emotional, more theoretical than palpable.

It's not for any lack of visceral detail. No, weirdly, what's off-putting about Blindness seems to have to do with its abundance of visceral details. Nearly drowning his cast in a soup of shadow, bleach and blur, Meirelles lays on the technique so thick that he can't seem to see his own forest for the trees. However archly reverent of its literary source material this movie is, what it ultimately achieves is a kind of allegorical myopia.

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