Fernando Meirelles's new film Blindnessbegins with the rush and push of urban life; traffic, crowds, activity, purpose. And then, one man cries out: "I'm blind." He eventually makes it to an ophthalmologist, but there's nothing physically wrong with his eyes; he simply can't see. "It feels like I'm swimming in milk," he explains, and we see, through his eyes, the blank, empty swirl of what used to be the world. And then another person says they are blind, and then another, and soon those few, frightened voices form a chorus of chaos as "the White Sickness" spreads like wildfire and leaves a ruined world in its wake.
Adapting Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago's novel, Blindness feels like a curious mix of highbrow literary aspirations and lowbrow genre fiction; as the White Sickness spreads from person to person in a clear chain of connection and things fall apart, it'd be easy to dismiss Blindness as Dawn of the Dead for NPR listeners or Outbreak for grad students. Meirreles has taken a similar two-pronged approach before -- The Constant Gardener is an excellent critique of the failings of modern capitalism that also works as a strong, suspenseful thriller -- and while Blindness may not work as well as that film, it's also a clear case of a film, and filmmaker, failing to hit the mark occasionally only because they've set the bar so high for themselves.