At Quality 16 and Showcase

3 out of 5 Stars

“Blindness” is a difficult film to watch, let alone enjoy. Its visual and thematic elements are so disturbing that you often can’t even look at it. Yet at times, it’s impossible to look away.

It begins innocently enough. A very confused man has inexplicably lost his sight while driving to work. But it’s not as if the world has gone dark. On the contrary, the man claims that it’s as if “someone has turned on all the lights.” Slowly, several others start to experience the same effects. Soon, it has evolved into a full-blown medical crisis.

The disease, known only as “White Sickness,” has no apparent cause or infectious agent. Naturally, the government panics and decides to sequester the first group of infected citizens in an old mental asylum. This includes an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), as well as his wife (Julianne Moore, “Children of Men”) who can actually see, but chooses to fake blindness in order to remain with her husband.

The blindness — coupled with the alienation from the outside world — begins to drive some of them crazy. Then things get really ugly and soon new meaning is given to “the blind leading the blind.” One man (Gael García Bernal, “Babel”) seizes control of the food supply and declares that he will only supply the others with food in exchange for valuables and their women. The most sickening part is that there is no other choice. People must comply.

“Blindness” is a supremely difficult film to experience. There are moments in which the screen is flooded with total whiteness. Moments of total blackness and even the “normal” scenes are so washed out that it’s too bright to see anything. It makes for an unbelievably disorienting experience, which is essentially what the film is going for.

And yet, despite the last hour being so intensely disturbing that it’s tough to stomach, it’s hard to feel anything for these people. The characters are so de-humanized that no names are ever given. They are simply a mob of scared and confused animals.

If there is an underlying message or idea to be gleaned from this, it’s most likely that this is a world gone blind, with no sense or reason left — not exactly a subtle message in these times. For many today, this will strike a chord, and the fact that the film never reveals the time or place these events are set only furthers the deep sense of paranoia and agitation it inspires.

“Blindness” offers a vastly different film than anything out there today. It’s sure to polarize its audience with some claiming it to be a thinking man’s film and others insisting it to be scenes of unendurable torture with no coherency. And it’s hard to draw the line between the two. Yes, this film is undeniably brutal, but, at the same time, undoubtedly mesmerizing — just maybe not in the best ways.

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