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Blindness

Year: 2008
Production Co: Rhombus Media
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Don McKellar
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Sandra Oh

As Art Linson's book (which became a movie starring Robert De Niro) said, and which Fernando Meirelles must have asked himself after this, what just happened?

He exploded hot and bright onto the world stage after City of God, one of the best movies of the 2000s. It launched him right to the top of the A list directorial tree and he followed it up with one of the best corporate intrigue thrillers since the paranoid 70s conspiracy movies like Three Days of the Condor and All the President's Men with The Constant Gardener.

Now here he was doing what looked like a blistering science fiction concept, had an A list cast, headlined the 2008 Cannes film festival and then... nothing. It was hardly released, not even scraping back a quarter of its budget.

I gather early critical response must have damned it, but I don't see what those who hated it (not many – hardly anybody saw it) hated so much about it. The picture was crisp, the acting was accomplished, and although the story was strongly allegorical I didn't find it as ham fisted as it could have been.

A strange epidemic of blindness strikes an unnamed city, starting with a single Asian guy in traffic and ending up with a whole clutch of sufferers. It's the present day, but the government enacts an Orwellian response, rounding people up and locking them in hospital wards to fend for themselves while some bureaucrat on TV tells them how much the government cares for them and is trying to help.

An unnamed eye doctor (Ruffalo) is the erstwhile hero, but his wife (Moore) has a secret – of everyone in their new community, she's retained her sight. As they try to work together to survive in the appalling conditions, a thug (Bernal) emerges as the leader of another ward, and after hoarding the food, he tells everyone else he'll only give it up for valuables and then sex, leading to one of the film's most upsetting scenes.

It's a bit of a stretch that Moore's character doesn't act sooner, but when she finally does and the small group her and her husband have formed gets the chance to leave, their guards are gone and the city is in ruins, the epidemic apparently having spread everywhere.

The final half hour of the film is bizarre to say the least – somewhere between disjointed and anticlimactic – but it contains some good shots of the rubbish-strewn, deserted city as the survivors make their way through it like it's the setting of some sci-fi dystopia. Maybe the loss of momentum and failure to really resolve anything is what irked those who saw it – there's a moment right at the end where something happens that makes you think everything's going to be all right for everybody, but it isn't explored nor explained.

Neither is the wholesale loss of sight at all, for that matter, nor why Moore's character was immune, lending more weight to the idea that Meirelles and the novel the script is based on were saying something much deeper than what's on screen. Whatever it was, it lies buried with the film's mostly-undeserved obscurity. Like Lord of the Flies , it's an investigation into what we become without the rule of law.

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