It's a rare treat to like a movie that most critics hate. Usually I see eye to eye with at least some reviews, but in the case of Blindness, all I found were negative notices – and yet I was determined to see the film anyway. Why? Because I am fascinated with blindness. I think losing one's sight is second only to losing one's memory in terms of the worst things that could ever happen to a person. So I instantly identified with the horror of the story's premise: a mysterious virus makes everybody in the world lose their eyesight completely – except for one woman (Julianne Moore), who finds herself in a unique position of power and responsibility.
I was also excited to see the film because I think Fernando Meirelles is one of the most talented directors in the world right now. His City of God, shot in his native Brazil, is justly celebrated as an incredible, action-packed document of crime and poverty. I found the script for his follow-up, The Constant Gardener, lacking, but his Africa-based drama was still powerfully directed, with a rich eye for detail.
Some critics poo-poohed Blindness because they didn't think Meirelles's strong visual sense was appropriate for the subject matter. What a stupid thing to say. Would they rather the film be shot with no style? I think Meirelles employs his camera to great effect in regards to the theme. He plays with light, shadow, and framing to reflect the disorientating attributes of the epidemic, as well as to maintain the viewer's suspense and sympathy. He also applies his third world sensibilities to show how even the most civilized of societies can quickly resemble the filthy shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro or Nairobi. (The film mines our own fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina's victims, rounded up in the New Orleans Superdome.) Finally, while some people may find the story's metaphors too obvious, I simply took it at face value as a terrifying "what if?" scenario.
Apparently the film got negative reactions right out of the gate: after it premiered at Cannes, it was reportedly reedited; a voiceover narration by costar Danny Glover was cut, among other things. And it's true, Glover's role feels as though it was once much bigger (you hardly see him at all during the film's first two-thirds), and his one bit of onscreen narration, despite the stunning visuals that go with it, is florid and out of place, as if the text from Saramago's novel was copied and pasted onto his tongue.
I'm also guessing that there were more scenes involving the government of this unnamed country (Meirelles shot his exteriors in Sao Paulo, his interiors in Canada); you briefly glimpse Sandra Oh as Minister of Health, but she's quickly forgotten as the story focuses on the poor souls who were first rounded up and quarantined in an institution that quickly turns into a sightless Lord of the Flies.
These awkward, truncated scenes probably were detrimental to the film in their longer form, so the cuts were probably smart ones. What we're left with is a harrowing, creatively-shot film that's just as good as the slightly similar Children of Men and much better than the slightly similar The Happening. I have no doubt that once the negative press dies down, Blindness will find its audience. If the film sounds at all interesting to you, I do urge you to see it while it's still in theaters (which won't be for much longer, given its weak reception). It will lose much on the small screen.