Tue September 30, 2008
The blind see.
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"My blindness is my sight; The shadows that I feared so long Are all alive with light." Alice Cary
When Oedipus blinds himself for his sins, he immediately sees into the heart of things, as Wordsworth depicts the poetic spirit. Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Don McKellar, along with novelist Jose Saramagmo, seem to have the same purpose for a whole contemporary city experiencing "white blindness." Except for a doctor's wife, played by Julianne Moore, who is sighted, unaffected by the plague.
When she is described as the only person with "vision," I thought this might be the Barack Obama story, but then I pinched myself back to the science fiction. My return to that genre made me dig up all kinds of allegorical interpretations, not the least being a savior leading all of us benighted Americans out of neocon blindness into reality, be it wars of aggression or failed banking.
Elements from other films are legion, including aids-like terror of 28 Days, the group politics of The Fog, the post-apocalyptic wreckage of I am Legend, and the incarceration mayhem of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Blindness is strongest in gritty sequences such as the rape negotiation, where real issues of sacrifice are hit head on and the horrors of torture are palpable; it is weakest in leaving too much to the allegory, as if the audience should not worry about the reason for government inaction or why the doctor's wife is not blind. That no one has a name heightens the figurative base of the film but helps to make the proceedings murky and a bit too artsy.
Blindness poses for me the old question about which we would prefer: blindness or deafness. For this film, the answer is obvious: Horrors await those who cannot see while not hearing is much easier to endure, sometimes welcome in the case of a magpie spouse.
But nobody should ever want to live the way the blind folks do in Blindness.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com