Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blindness at the Rio

Shame about Blindness. First off, its status as a total dog theatrically means that the Rio, where I saw it tonight, had about half a dozen people in it - on a Tuesday, when all seats are $6. That's no complaint on my part; I normally have to sit up close at theatres to avoid being distracted by the rustlings and whisperings and hyuks and over-the-seat-feet and text-messagings and popcorn-munching of the people around me, but tonight I had the rare treat of sitting in the middle rows all to myself ...Still, it's unfortunate for the Rio. Given that they're doing Midnight Movies - a very, very good idea, methinks (schedule for upcoming horror double-bills here, along with a few requests o' mine) - I want to see them flourish, and so many empty seats were a bit painful to behold in that regard.

It's not the only shame about the film, tho'. It tries very hard to say serious things about the human condition that presumably are well-stated in the book, which I have not read. A variation on the "infection apocalypse film" that I mention in writing about [REC] below, it has more in common with 28 Days Later than I ever would have expected; some of that is stuff I'd rather not give away, in case you see the film, but suffice it to say that the question of how to stay human in an "infected" world is a common theme. Rather than rage-infected "zombies," however, the film uses a plague of blindness as a way of exploring the failings of humanity, a theme that is well-worthy of a film. There are promising moments and at least two actors - Julianne Moore and a sadly under-used Maury Chaykin - who can usually illuminate even mundane material - but for the most part, the characters stumble about like figures trapped in a parable, never seeming fully human, their dilemmas so constantly mined for illustrative purposes that we're more aware of their value as ideas and symbols than their humanity, or the reality of their emotions... Their actions at times seem so unbelievable, meanwhile, that one is constantly snapped out of one's contract with the film: "yes, I can see where they're going, but people just don't act that way." When Don McKellar's character - he has a role in the film as well as having written it - commits what appears to be suicide-by-soldier, we've had so little opportunity to really enter his mind, it's not even clear what he's doing, and we don't really care, before-during-or-after. Any impulse I might have felt to play along initially left me for good as soon as Danny Glover stepped in midway through as the Moralizing Black Narrator (I guess Morgan Freeman was too expensive). Glover's somber reportage is annoying whenever it crops up, but is worst, alas, at the ending, where it appears that the filmmakers simply ran out of faith in the power of images to convey their point and hauled out Glover to read to us, a failure which should embarrass those responsible greatly.

Really, the only people I can see getting much at all out of this film are future students of the work of Don McKellar, assuming that there will be some. The film owes a lot to his Last Night, sharing at times a bit of the quirky, self-consciously obvious, "accept-my-premise-and-I'll-tell-you-a-story" approach that made that film warm and engaging. Unlike Blindness, though, the characters in Last Night stayed real and interesting and our suspension of disbelief was gladly given. I suspect that McKellar and Mereilles - of the obnoxiously flashy City of God - are simply too different in their approach to cinema for the virtues in McKellar's script, whatever they may have been, to have made it onto the screen intact. Mereilles seems a B-grade Ridley Scott at best, but Don McKellar - whom I hereby absolve of Blindness' failings - is someone who I hope will be talked about in 20, 50, 100 years time... Maybe if McKellar had been allowed to direct his own material, he could have pulled it off?

...I guess it doesn't really matter. Sorry, Rio: I really can't recommend this one to anyone.

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