Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blindness Sucks

THE 2008 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL was described by Esquire Magazine recently: 
"As purveyor nonpareil of cinematic style and substance, the Cannes Film Festival officially opened this year’s 61st edition with Blindness, Fernando Meirelles’s stylish adaptation of José Saramago’s substantive novel."
As luck would have it, I just finished reading that Saramago  novel about a week ago and I can certainly vouch for its being "substantive" alright [in a punishing sort of way].  So when Ms. T.M. texted me the news a few days ago about a film adaptation of the novel, I was curious as to the possible reaction to it...

The film version "stumbles" sez Esquire...
That the director succeeds more often than he fails proves the resilience of Saramago’s potent themes as well as Meirelles’s skillful visual language. But Blindness stumbles because it’s a fundamental mismatch: A visceral director better known for searing portraits of real-life injustices shouldn’t really make a parable.
Well, and some parable!  If you do read the book, see what you think of my caveats and questions about it:

The contagious  "White Blindness" that is the now-famous premise of the novel, afflicts all the characters found in the story, except for the Doctor's Wife, who mysteriously never loses her own sight throughout, and even makes it to author Jose Saramago's next novel, subtly entitled, SEEING.  Indeed, one gets the uncanny feeling that she IS Jose Saramago, as a character and authorial presence, or device, to see into, and manipulate the characters and events within the Blindness story line and plot.  Perhaps that is why, he/she does not feel obligated to explain the origin and departure of the "white blindness,"  though many will guess long before the novel's midpoint that eventually, eventually these poor suffering literary characters must be saved from their creator's cruel version of Hell on Earth as a Quarantine of the Blind in an Abandoned Mental Asylum. 

There is not a single first name, nor a single last name, neither the proper names of any places like streets or buildings or addresses, in Blindness.  But there are several memorable characters in it.  There is the First Blind Man, and the  Car Thief who takes him home.  There is the Doctor of Opthalmology, whose several other patients figure big in the story: a Girl with Dark Glasses;  a Little Boy with a Squint;  a Bald Man with a Patch Over One Eye; the Accountant; a Hotel Maid. And of course, the Doctor's Wife, who in a stroke of altruistic and authorial brilliance, pretends to be blind, and is thus quarantined along with her husband and the rest of the cast listed above in Ward One. 

I shall leave the meaty events that transpire within the Quarantine Asylum for the Blind for generations of Modern Lit students yet to come.  There are supposedly centuries worth of social and political science encapsulated within its turgidly gripping pages, in which most of the blind,  with pitiable, whited-out visions, spend page-eternities looking for food, then the comfort rooms, roughly in that order.  I'm all for social justice, and uhmmm, public sanitation, yes!   Flowing inexorably downhill,  a kind of local nadir is reached with the sex-for-food dictatorship forcibly set up by organized blind hooligans in Ward Three, who happen to have a gun.   

But that little experiment in Fascism in the novel, is too-easily ended, in my opinion, by the direct and horrific actions of the Doctor's Wife, who could not have done so plausibly if she were blind like the rest.  I think, it would have been an entirely superb and miraculous novel if the author did not rely on the deus ex machina capabilities of the Doctor's Wife.  After the whole world presumably goes blind, and no one is even left to enforce their imprisonment in the Quarantine, her ability to see allows her to lead the little band of Ward One, representing the Spark of Civilization in a world gone blind and therefore mad, out into the world, where she finds the ample and undisturbed basement larder of a local supermarket and puts them up in her own house.  The Doctor's Wife is steadfast and strong throughout it all, even after the Doctor sleeps with the Girl in Dark Glasses.

The epidemic of "White Blindness" itself ends with authorial omnipotence just as suddenly and mysteriously as it began with the First Blind Man, who was also the first to realize his sight was fully restored.   We are given ample assurances that the Parable is over, the world is slowly restored to its full-sightedness.  Never mind how or why any of this happened. It's not a sci-fi thriller. It's a parable, get it? 
 Sadly, there is no love story to be found within Blindness.  Near the end of the novel, the Girl with the Dark Glasses decides she  wants to spend the rest of her life with the Bald Man with a Patch Over One Eye, adopting at the same time the Boy with a Squint, to be their love-child.  Of course, this eventuality occurs just before everyone's sight is restored and the epidemic reverses its parabolic course, implying that perhaps even such a tender and poignant motif is wasted on Saramago.  

Oh, does the Doctor's Wife love the Doctor.  

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