There are a number of very good reasons to avoid trying to turn a book called Blindness into a film. A blank screen is the second taboo of cinema (the first being Adam Sandler), and when broken, is usually done so in such a heavy handed manner that it serves to undermine any message the film might have, rather than shore it up (Nicolas Klotz’s Heartbeat Detector being the most recent example). To be fair, Meirelles persistently avoids leaving the screen blank, and his failure to handle the on-screen representation of blindness is only intermittent and interspersed with moments of insight that are remarkable – if only for proving that CGI isn’t just for explosions and pitched battles.
What is perhaps more troubling is Meirelles’ attempt to control the unresolved allegory behind Saramago’s novel. Rather than have the blindness descend all at once, it comes back to each person individually – a device that seemingly imitates the cultural logic of the Saw films: you’re going to enjoy your life, even if it kills you. Furthermore, the rape scene is terrible to watch, probably the most traumatic moment to have been caught on celluloid in the last ten years.
Julianne Moore’s performance is particularly impressive, bringing a much needed human element to this somewhat farfetched but compelling film.