The novel Blindness, by Jose Saramago, was published in Portuguese in 1995 and translated into English in 1997. Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature one year later, in 1998, in no small part due to the success (and the quality) of Blindness. The book is really great, and you should read it. It’s a combination of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Albert Camus’s The Plague, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. All three of those are great books, it’s weird that no one ever talks about how good they are! On that note: you know how people always say that the book is better than the movie? That is almost always the case, but it is definitely the case with dystopian existentialist parables. And it is super true of this dystopian existentialist parable!

“I wish I was blind” is what I kept thinking during this movie! No it’s not. Please, Lord in Heaven, do not make me blind because of my cheap throwaway joke. I love seeing, it’s my total favorite. But also, Lord in Heaven, this movie!

So, Blindness takes place in an unnamed city where a man in traffic discovers suddenly that he is blind. He goes to the doctor, but nothing seems to be wrong with him. Very quickly, this “disease” spreads, and everyone is forced into a military-guarded quarantine in a repuporsed asylum designed by the guy who built the Saw basement. Julianne Moore is not blind, but she says that she is blind so that she can be with her husband Mark Ruffalo. Pretty quickly, there is garbage everywhere, and by garbage I mean human excrement. Also bare butts. Tons of bare butts! Julianne Moore–who can see, but shh, it is a secret!–does her best to help everyone through this traumatic event, but it is clear that there is only so much she can do. And then here comes Gael Garcia Bernal who is so handsome mean! He declares himself King of Ward 3 (long story) and him and his goons hijack all of the food. He has a gun. Everyone has to give him their jewelry if they want to eat, and then when they run out of jewelry they have to give them their being raped. Eventually, Julianne Moore, fed up and raped, kills him with scissors, and a war begins between the “good” blind people and the “bad” blind people. The war lasts about five minutes. It is surprising how quickly you can end a war by setting a room full of blind people on fucking fire! Everyone runs outside, only to discover that the guards are gone (blind probably–definitely), and so now everyone wanders out into the streets. Julianne Moore leads her ragtag gang of misfits (who just might make it to the playoffs this season!) to her home. Now they are a family! And then one day, the blindness magically disappears. The end.

You could tell Something Is Wrong With Blindness before the movie even came out in theaters. Namely, in the promotional stunt of giving away free dilation sunglasses with the word Blindness printed on them, and then asking fans (fans?) to post pictures of themselves wearing the glasses on-line. Uh, WHAT?

Whoops, Blindness, that is your marketing campaign. (Seriously, Hollywood, get your DICK out of your MOUTH and THINK about these things!) I mean, I understand the difficulties in trying to make a dystopian existential parable into a major motion picture event, but this is basically like if Hollywood tried to promote The Road by distributing free guns to children (one bullet in each gun!) and asking everyone to post their human meat recipes on-line. I guess it’s kind of like that “We All Have AIDS” campaign for Kenneth Cole a couple of years ago, but you know what the difference was with the “We All Have AIDS” ad campaign? There was no difference, it was AWFUL!

Although, the movie didn’t just fuck up the marketing campaign, and I would hate to suggest otherwise. The movie definitely also fucked up the movie. The thing about dystopian existentialist parables is that they are parables. So, when a city in a novel is unnamed, it bears the characteristics of a modern city and probably bears more than a passing resemblance to the city where the author lives, or whatever. When a city is unnamed in a movie it is just WEIRD. It’s one thing to film the movie in Spain, or wherever this was filmed, but does every actor have to have a distinctly separate accent? And why do Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo live in Spain anyway? You begin to see how this falls apart.

Like, if in a dystopian existentialist parable, everyone is blind, then everyone is blind. We can all use our Imaginariums of Dr. Parnassus to picture what that might be like. But when it’s in a movie, it’s a bunch of people that you know very well are not blind pretending to stumble around all over the place. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo and even Danny Glover are all very talented actors, and if you needed three people to fake stumble around in human shit for two hours, you couldn’t pick better. But do you need three people to fake stumble around in human shit for two hours? I’m not sure you do!

Not to mention the fact that wherever the novel had space to explore what the emotional impact was of an epic human catastrophe, the movie basically had the space for this:

If there is one thing Hollywood loves it is seeing Julianne Moore cry. CRY FOR YOUR BANANA, YOU TEARS MONKEY! She has one of the most miserable faces in the game, apparently. But you can see how Julianne Moore crying might be less of an emotional exploration of the tenuousness of the social contract, and more just an exercise in misery. I mean, she cries really well! No one is saying she is not great at crying. But if that was all that was going on here, Saramago could have just said “everyone goes blind and this one lady is super sads about it,” and given the Nobel Prize (NOBEL PRIZE!) to someone else.

This is never more apparent than at the end. In the book, the return of sight is not an intrinsically happy ending. The world has been broken, the darker side of humanity revealed, and it will take a lot of work to rebuild, you know, SOCIETY, as well as rebuilding shattered personal lives. We are left at the precipice of an enormous crossroads now that our eyes have been “opened,” so to speak. Not so in the movie! In the movie it reads like a classic Hollywood happy ending. Everyone can see again. HIGH FIVE.

Any meaning to be gleaned from this movie is force fed to the audience, in complete opposition to the book’s effect. When Mark Ruffalo suggests that the original blind patient’s symptoms resemble something called “agnosia,” Julianne Moore asks “is that related to agnosticism?” OW! MY HEAD! PLEASE, STOP BEATING ME OVER IT!*


That being said, there is one criticism that no one could lobby against this movie: they spared no expense on the shit budget. If you were worried that Hollywood would stand in the way of this movie getting the human shit all over the place that it needed to tell this story, you are wrong. There was no skimping on the Blindness prop-shit budget.

Now, Blindness is not the worst movie ever made if for no other reason than that it is (shit everywhere aside) visually very beautiful. You can see how hard they worked to mirror the experience of this pandemic blindness while still being watchable, and many of the images are captivating. Except for this one, when everyone goes out dancing in the rain:

What is this a dystopian existentialist Zima commercial? A Macy Gray video? Actually, to be fair, that scene was ridiculous (although slightly less ridiculous than the scene a few minutes later when Julianne Moore and some friends take a giggling rain shower on the roof) but it still looks good.

And if there is one thing that is important about dystopian existentialist parables it is that they look good.

Hey Blindness, how many fingers am I holding up?

Get it? Blindness, do you get it?

*It’s not impossible that this line about agnosia-agnosticism was in the book, I don’t remember, it was a long time ago that I read it, but I am still confident that the book was more subtle than this movie log10 to the woof power.

Comments (85)
  1. Julianne Moore is my number one rockstar forever, even if she’s been in two Worst Movies thus far.

  2. Gabe, I see your Julianne Moore cryface and raise you a James Van Der Beek cryface.
    Image and video hosting by TinyPic
    I think I win this one. (Although, in the “Showing your kitty in the movies” game, Julianne Moore has Dawson beat by a mile.)

  3. yikes, blindness… even the airedale terrier looks like he wishes he was in another movie

  4. The movie ends with everyone getting their sight back and Julianne Moore is jealous so she gets pink eye from that dog?

    It burns so good. Suck it people with sight!!!!

  5. claire danes’ crying face. lots of lulz.

  6. I would like to see a lare jpeg or a gif or something of Julianne more crying…because she does cry in pretty much every movie and she is very beautiful. MAKE IT SO!

  7. woozefa  |   Posted on Dec 14th, 2009 +27

    i remember hearing about this movie and thinking it sounded great and then seeing the trailer and being unable to stop barfing. turns out i ate some bad chicken. after i got out of the hospital, the movie had left theatres so i never got to see it.

  8. Yes it was pretty (in a disgusting, blown-out milky white way) and Julianne cried real good. But AAGGH! Why did she put up with all of the rape-raping and violence and food hijacking when she could have taken the gun from The King of Ward 3 at almost ANY TIME? Not to unfairly characterize the newly blind, but seriously, how hard would it have been for her to get the upper hand? It’s like she put herself (and the audience) through this relentless shit-fest just so the movie would have a running time closer to two hours.
    The foulness of this movie made me give away my unread copy of the book.

    • i had the same question re. the plot-hole of appeasement — as someone who actually has had a very minor, brief-but-scary bout of temporary blindness, i was anticipating a better story. the allegory was lost on me, especially since the moore character had the power to resist all along, what with her having sight…(maybe the nobel should have gone to frank l. baum) if i was supposed to learn to hate julianne moore, mission accomplished. feh.

  9. y’know her rage face is great too. she feels SO MUCH! and so well..I mean of course she has a pretty smile. No homo, but she’s just the best.
    Far From Heaven: tears. The Big Lebowski: no. The Hours: probably. Magnolia: rage & tears!
    I think she even cries in Jurrasic Park II. *sob*the raptors ate my backpack!*sob!*
    The Ladies Man: Bloopie?
    and if she doesn’t cry in Laws of Attraction she maybe should have. She laughs though. oh yes, her laugh.

  10. I’ve nominated Million Dollar Baby and Chocolat before, but I don’t think there were a lot of takers.

    But have you guys seen It’s All About Love? Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with Russian ice skating superstar Claire Danes in future New York, and Claire Danes has many clones who get murdered all the time, and people drop dead in the street for no reason, and in Africa people float into the sky all the time so they have to be tethered to the ground, and Sean Penn plays Joaquin Phoenix’s brother, who has a weird accent and is stuck on an airplane for some reason and whose purpose is to talk to Joaquin on the phone and say weird philosophical things, and then Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes freeze to death and Sean Penn is still stuck in a plane.

    • i kind of feel like this isn’t a real movie you’re drunk and rambling. (this is probably a real movie. also i love you.)

      • Bird, alas, I don’t think I can make it to Pizza Party LA tomorrow…

        • i kinda forgot about this. we didn’t really solidify it, did we? anyone? can we do it in the new year? and invite Thomas168 (below)

          • I am relieved to hear you say it was never solid. It makes me feel like less of a scofflaw. I would love (or be afraid of, and love) to do this in the new year!
            I wonder in what Ralph’s parking lot Thomas168 opens her car trunk for sales. Maybe there we can drink alcohol and load up on avantgarde tracksuits to our heart’s content in 2010.

          • i’m sure it’s a Jon’s lot, not a Ralph’s. come on.

        • my last answer was a little spastic. let us bail on the unconfirmed pizza party! (i’m super busy with holiday junk anyway.)

    • I would also like to see the first 2 movies you mentioned get the VG treatment.

    • Never heard of it, but it sounds like a great contender.

      Getter done!

    • I’m with you. I hated Million Dollar Baby so much. Please, please do this one at some point, Gabe.

    • Holy shit, All About Love sounds amazing. I’m not even joking. Even if it’s awful, if everything you said actually transpires, I am so there. Kinda like Southland Tales.
      “Move to the top of your queue?” Sure!
      Thanks for the suggestion! I will now have a Movie Night with my dog and fiance, who will continue to suppress her hate for me for making her watch hilariously awful movies as I crack up while she refills her wine glass to the brim in a futile attempt to numb the pain of a life she chose to spend with a man who would rather laugh at shitty movies then take that Asian-fusion cooking class so we can actually do something worthwhile and learn a new skill instead of sitting on the couch, watching terrible movies and wasting the best part of our lives in a semi-comatose state of media-saturation while she laments the day she ever agreed to marry me.
      Thanks again, Dwayne!

      • That One! You and the self-loathing! Just get a room already.

        • Napoleon, none of that has any root in reality. My fiance does hate it when I make her watch stupid movies, but that’s pretty much it.
          Make no mistake, I do tend to hate myself for many reasons. That’s just not one of them. My self-loathing and I have booked a room on many occasions. I call it “porn”. It’s not pretty.

      • Haha, yip! All that stuff happens (pretty much, from what I can remember)….the film really is mind-bendingly weird, but directed by an actually competent director (Thomas Vinterberg). Sean Penn’s performance is quite the head-scratcher, too. Overwrought symbolism and weird dystopia from it kinda relate back to Blindness too, I guess.

        I don’t even really hate it, though, purely because it’s so off the wall. Definitely worth considering for the Hunt, however, a la Southland Tales. Here’s a clip (I’d embed it if I knew how);

    • Reading up on It’s All About Love, it certainly sounds catastrophic in the best way possible.

      But apart from a premier at Sundance (according to the highly reliable Wikipedia) I can’t find whether it got theatrical release.

  11. I understand why you keep overlooking the Love Guru, cos once you do it, the hunt will be over.

    Look at how ‘Talented’ Justin Timberlake is…

  12. Has 28 Days been nominated before? (Not 28 Day Later with angry zombies) Sandra Bullock certainly knows how to pick em.

  13. k I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley last night and I need to nominate it because it was absolutely unwatchable.

  14. The story is ludicrous.

    I’d rather watch a beaver picture.

  15. I liked Blindness, but when I thought back about why all my brain could come with was “Mmm I would lick those tragic, well-acted tears off of Julianne Moore’s beautiful freckled face.”

  16. Don’t forget about Danny Glover’s voice over narration because he is Danny Glover god or whatever. Telling you all the movie lessons. In voice over narration.

  17. “When Mark Ruffalo suggests that the original blind patient’s symptoms resemble something called “agnosia,” Julianne Moore asks “is that related to agnosticism?”"

    This offends me as both an atheist and as someone who hates movies who telegraph their messages as blatantly as that.

    Also, unrelated note, but it appears I won’t be able to make the pizza party tomorrow night. I’m going to be visiting friends at my former college for shows and exhibits and such. Bad timing. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to meet you monsters in person. :(

  18. Gabe, I usually love your columns here (I totally LMAO), but I think I don’t agree with you this time. First, I don’t understand why you take Blindness as a “Hollywood” production. Despite the presence of well known actors like Moore and Ruffalo, there were no big paychecks involved in the making of the film and no expectations of fantastic box office, not even here in Brazil, let alone in the rest of the planet. Blindness was a quite small production for Hollywood standards, with a budget of 20 or 25 millions. Some of those white background scenes were actually made with a glass of milk, and many of the scenes were filmed in Montevideo and São Paulo, which are not traditional cities in the process of making movies in Hollywood.
    Second, Blindness is a fantastic book with a very clear political message. (anyone familiar with Saramago’s style knows that), but its plot is very difficult to recreate on film. Believe me, Meirelles did the best that was humanly possible with the money and material he had. And, as a brazilian and big fan of Saramago, who’s portuguese, for years, I think the story lost impact in english. It simply didn’t work. I understand they had to do it in english to get distribution and raise international interest in the story, but, the whole thing just sounded strange. And the script didn’t help.
    And just to end the post, I think it’s unfair to insinuate that Saramago’s Nobel wasn’t deserving. I read nearly all his books and I think his work, in general, is brilliant and interesting. He has a thing for the unusual and he loves to create absurd scenarios to criticize our society…much better than Le Clezio, Muller and all these people winning Nobel Prizes lately…
    Now, I’d like to kindly nominate Braveheart for this journey. :)

    • Time to go back to the top of the page where Gabe says that he distinctly liked the book, and never insinuates that it was undeserving of winning a Nobel Prize. He liked the book, disliked the movie…. your critiques seem to show a similar opinion…..
      What’s the disagreement?

      • I just think I think Gabe’s review of the film was way too simplistic, you know? I’m not saying this is the best film on Earth, but I don’t think Blindness should be in the Hunt at all. In a general way, I liked the film and I don’t find it bad enough to be among REALLY crappy films like The Black Dahlia, The Last Kiss, In The Land of Women and Gone in 60 Seconds. It’s a small disagreement, actually. I’m looking forward for the next column. :)

        • when gabe says “this is not TWMOAT,” it basically means “this doesn’t deserve to be in the same category as The Lake House, The Black Dahlia, etc.” that’s how i always understood it.

  19. I nominate Visioneers starring Zach Galifianakis. There’s a lot of Galifianakis love around here, and it may require re-evaluation.

  20. Pretty sure Brad Pitt in Legends Of The Fall cried best, and by best I mean ridiculous.


  21. I just came back from seeing Brothers and boy oh boy, I officially nominate the bleep out of it!

    (and, as always, a walk to remember)

  22. Great piece, Gabe! But I mostly liked this movie. Probably because I have an apocalypse fetish. I’m waiting for The Road the way manchildren wait for George Lucas to shit another one.

  23. Just once I’d like to arrive to this party on time so that I could nominate “The Shape of Things” at the top of the comments where it would receive all the love*(-1) it deserves.

  24. i know it’s not eligible for the hunt, but spiderman 3 was on all weekend. horrible!

  25. im not sure if its allowed in the hunt or not gabester but miami vice (colin farrell jamie foxxx) is one of the few movies ive turned off 10 mins in, and ive seen blindness twice. with both eyes!

  26. Please Gabe do Jumper!!!

  27. There are so many worst movies of all time, it may be time preservation we need…as in, the “best movie of all time” list would be way shorter.

    on another note, since we all enjoy talking shit…
    let’s keep this going ))<>((

    Summer Catch (or anything with Jessica Biel)
    Ghost of Girlfriends Past (or anything with Matthew McConaughey)
    Sideways (it’s not supposed to be funny to be clinically depressed OR to get the shit beat out of you by Sandra Oh)
    Bug (Tweakers are annoying. Fucking with someone’s head is annoying. THERE ARE NO BUGS…that’s annoying)

  28. hey that ain’t cool. fuck you CODECS it won’t let me make the symbol politically correct. whatev, y’all know what i mean.

  29. how are these movies nominated? has anyone seen “Passengers” starring Anne Hathaway and Nite Owl II? abysmal.

  30. I get it. If I click that link, I’m gonna go blind, aren’t I?

  31. Oh man, avant-garde shoes! I’ll take 7, because avant-garde shoes can totally be something that exists!

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