Fans of John Wyndham’s classic tale of apocalypse have little to fear as regards Blindness; it’s not a Triffid-less Day Of The Triffids, and there’s nothing to stop Hollywood finally making a decent film of that peculiarly under-served sci-fi classic.
Where Blindness coincides with that book is in depicting a world suffering from an epidemic of sight-destroying disease, and – as in Wyndham’s template – certain people are unaffected. These include doctor’s wife Julianne Moore, who devotedly follows her infected husband to the internment/quarantine camp where the sighted military guards keep the detainees away from the fences with sub-machine guns, after mocking them a bit.
Apart from a daily – and increasingly meagre – consignment of food sent in from the outside, the inmates must govern themselves, and in effect the quarantine camp echoes the survivalist culture of Escape From New York.
Before you know it, the ‘ward’ to where all the bad boys have gravitated takes over control of the food supply, and the other wards must supply trinkets in order to get anything to eat. When the trinkets are exhausted, the powerless faction must supply its women on a daily basis to provide sex with the new kings on the block.
The principal rape scene depicts the submission of Moore and other women in her ward to the pedestrian sex acts of their new masters. It’s not centred on any one victim, takes place almost in darkness and is comprised of a series of mostly-elliptical shots. The offence comes in the dialogue, the misogyny and the enjoyment and abuse of power.
I have never seen anyone walk out of a press screening before, but two women reviewers left as soon as this scene was over, and I can’t blame them. For the most part, it’s a pretty boring film.
The accompanying press materials recount the long struggle of the producers of Blindness to wrest the rights from José Saramago for his acclaimed 1995 science-fiction novel, yet this is a film that could only have been green-lit in this particular period – the eventual glimpse of the totally-blind world beyond the borders of the quarantine camp is straight out of I Am Legend, and the apocalyptic theme has been Hollywood’s hot ticket for at least 18 months. In addition rape is getting increasingly marketable, so there’s a nice scene of coerced sex for men and women to gather together in chic bars and discuss the moral implications of.
Since Blindness has absolutely nothing new to say about the evil that mankind can stoop to in privation (and with unjustly-earned power), there’s little left to address in this very controversial scene besides its appeal as prurient cinema. So if you dig the idea of watching some ordinary and fairly nice women being raped in a film that has no justifiable context to frame the scene, knock yourself out. It’s a free country and it’s only a movie, I guess.
If you’re one of those modern gals who has succeeded in disassociating themselves entirely from the common concerns of your sex, get ready to stroke your chin over cocktails asking what it all meant (You could even go with the guy addressed in the previous paragraph, for Blindness has all the accoutrements of a date movie: a ponderous, philosophical voice-over from peripheral character Danny Glover, a moody and melodic score and the intertwining of the stories of disparate characters, which slowly link up throughout the film).
But don’t damage your chin in the search, because the unoriginality of the premise of the film is heartily matched by the triteness of its concerns with moral quandaries, and in this respect it is cut from the same cloth as the Saw movies – though lacking the candour of that franchise. Yes, under torture, people will do terrible things. Yes, there’s a lot of torture going on in the world right now, and a lot of it’s being done by the West.
That doesn’t make Blindness any kind of commentary on Guantanamo Bay or the Middle-East. It’s just an over-long prison movie with a hard-to-watch rape scene in it. Why not try Jackson County Jail instead? Tommy Lee Jones is in that one.
What on Earth the excellent Julianne Moore is doing in this tripe (besides paying for her kids’ tuition), I find it hard to fathom. On the other hand Danny Glover has done far worse things in his career, and he’s very good in this. The scenes of the ‘blind world’ in the last half-hour are well done, and rather evocative of Blade Runner, as well as the debris-strewn streets of I Am Legend.
Apart from that, there really is nothing to see here.
Blindness is released on the 28th of November