Friday, October 10, 2008

Blindness is a bit traumatic viewing...

I really wanted to show my folks who are visiting from the UK the Arclight Hollywood as it's always a great cinema experience, in my humble opinion the best in town.
Arclight Hollywood Foyer
I recommended The Duchess for my parents, as I had already seen it and loved it, whilst I choose to see the new Julianne Moore movie, Blindness.

My mum loved The Duchess and it was a real shame The Duchess movie costumes were no longer on display in the foyer, as the film exhibits are one of the highlights of the Arclight.

I'm so glad that my parents didn't accompany me to see Blindness, as it was traumatic viewing and an extremely bleak and harrowing movie (not something you want them to remember as part of their L.A. visit).

Spoiler alert: Don't read any further if you don't want to know major film plot and story details.
Blindness film poster
Even though the movie was intense viewing, I still enjoyed it, as it wasn't a bad movie, just hard going and powerful.

The story starts when a man is struck blind whilst driving his car.  He is driven home by a stranger, who ends up stealing his car.  When his wife takes him to an eye specialist, played by Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, Just like Heaven), we later learn he inadvertently exposes everyone in the doctor's waiting room to the virus he carries.

The Doctor returns home to his wife (Julianne Moore from Children of Men, Hannibal), homemade tiramisu and an obviously strained marriage.  The next morning the Doctor wakes to find himself afflicted by the same 'white blindness' affecting his patient.

From there we see cases breaking out amongst the waiting room patients. When the Doctor is taken away to be quarantined, his wife pretends to be blind to accompany him.  This is where you have to stretch your imagination as they adjust quite easily to their life in the unmanned, but guarded quarantine ward (there are no nurses or health professionals to treat them for fear of infection), and are soon joined by the fellow afflicted as the epidemic spreads.
Blindness movie poster
We watch as the blind 'inmates' adjust to their new lives in the wards and they soon descend into squalor and injury as they get used to their new state of blindness.  All the while, only we know that the Doctor's wife can see.  She does what she can to help the others, but soon the wards fill up and she can't help everyone.  Her sense of despair is palpable, but you never get anyone really moaning or complaining in this movie.

The wards are seemingly abandoned by the people in power, as their requests for medicine and food to treat the wounded fall on deaf ears.   The brutality of the film is shown when the wounded thief who stole the car at the start of the movie gets served a seemingly deserved karmic death, when he wanders out of the ward building into the yard and is shot in the head by the soldiers guarding the camp.

Via a handheld radio we get an update on the outside world and how the infection has spread. This doesn't seem like a high budget movie, so we are presented with a montage of images of accidents, which could be from stock footage.  But it effectively paints a picture of devastation and descent into chaos.

The overcrowded wards soon descend into anarchy, when one group, led by Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel, The Motorcycle Diaries) doesn't want to follow the quarantine rules and armed with a gun (where did that come from?), starts hoarding and controlling the food supply delivered to the containment camp.  
The story is like a study of human nature as we soon get a lesson in morality as they demand payment in order for the other patients to receive food.  Even though they can't see, they want anything of value - jewelry, gold, electronics.  Upon payment they dispense the food with no sense of fairness.  They are also aided by a pig of a man who was blind before this mysterious illness started, which seems doubly immoral.

Things go from bad to worse when valuables are no longer enough and the men of the rebel ward demand women in exchange for food.  Several women reluctantly volunteer to go to Ward 3 in exchange for food, otherwise everyone will starve. 

Remember all the while, everyone apart from Moore's character is blind, they are living in filth, some people are hurt, some are nude, they are hungry and they have been abandoned.  It's a pretty miserable existence.
Blindness movie poster
What follows next, caused one cinema goer in my performance to get up and leave, but the women are basically raped and forced to perform sex acts on the violent men in charge of the food supply in Ward 3.  

One woman is even brutally beaten to death when she doesn't respond the way the man wants.  Like I say, it's a bleak and harrowing film and you really don't know how worse it can get after this, but all the while utterly convincing (if you can suspend your disbelief at the circumstances of how we've come to this point).

Driven to despair and desperation, the fully sighted Doctor's wife takes a pair of scissors and goes to the male ward to exact her revenge on their leader and help the women being molested from another ward escape.  She threatens to kill more men if they don't get food.

One of the women who had originally volunteered to go to the rebel ward sneaks off and takes a lighter she'd held on to and sets fire to the place.  Moore and her ragtag band of ward-mates escape the flames, whilst the rapists of Ward 3 burn and 'blind' justice is served. 

The facility burns to the ground and when all the afflicted blind men and women stand in the yard of their former 'prison'.  Moore rushes to the gate and unlocks them, throwing them open to discover that the facility is no longer guarded.  The virus has spread and ravaged the surrounding city (and world?).

Next we are presented with unsettling images of an unidentified devastated city (I think it was filmed in Sao Paulo, but I believe the makers of the movie were trying to say this could happen in any city around the world), strewn with debris and rubbish, where trains and planes have crashed, packs of dogs run wild eating corpses and people scrabble about the streets searching for food amidst the chaos and despair.
Blindness film poster
Moore finds food and clothing for the group she safeguards, having to fight off other scavengers, and leads them back to the security of her home.  Husbands and wives reconnect with each other in this newfound safety, one man who had a patch over his eye (Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon) before the blindness, confesses to have found love through this affliction by someone getting to know his spirit rather than being judged at face value and the women of the group share some well earned intimate joy in a life affirming shower scene.

The movie ends when the first man blinded, and a part of their group, regains his eyesight, bringing with it hope for the other sufferers and for the future (although still tinged with sadness for some of this group of survivors).

Phew, I feel utterly depressed reliving this film - thank god I had glorious L.A. sunshine to walk out into.  Maybe it's just my gentle disposition, but this is not an uplifting film and doesn't pretend to be.  In fact it's hard to classify it and I've not read the book it is based on.  Is it a sci-fi dystopian view of the future, thriller, drama or horror, or a bit of all of them?  

It's hard to say I enjoyed the movie, but I did appreciate it.  It's well directed, visually interesting, believable (there's real filth and not just 'Hollywood' pretend mess), with an engrossing storyline, but my overall impression is of how bleak it is. I'd give Blindness three *** stars.

On a lighter note, after the cinema I took our pup up to Runyon Canyon for a good long walk.  The last few days have been really hot, so by the end of the walk he was panting away, even though he'd been well watered throughout.  Anyway, it made me laugh when Cooper once again laid down in puddle of mud to cool off. Then when I called him away he got up, but then circled around and sat down in it again.  That's my boy!  It made me smile anyway...

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