Blindness (film)

Blindness (film)

Infobox Film
name = Blindness

image_size =
caption = Theatrical poster
director = Fernando Meirelles
producer = Niv Fichman Andrea Barata Ribeiro Sonoko Sakai
writer = Don McKellar
narrator = Danny Glover
starring = Julianne Moore Mark Ruffalo Gael Garcia Bernal Danny Glover Alice Braga
music = Uakti
cinematography = César Charlone
editing = Daniel Rezende
distributor = flagicon|USA Miramax Films
flagicon|Canada Alliance Films
released = October 3, 2008
runtime =
country = Japan Canada Brazil
language = English
budget = $25 million
gross =
website =
amg_id = 1:361316
imdb_id = 0861689

"Blindness" is a 2008 dramatic thriller film that is an adaptation of the 1995 novel of the same name by José Saramago about a society suffering an epidemic of blindness. The film is written by Don McKellar and directed by Fernando Meirelles with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as the stars. The novel's author originally refused to sell rights for a film adaptation, not wanting it to fall into the wrong hands. Meirelles was able to acquire rights with the condition that the film would be set in an unrecognizable city. "Blindness" premiered as the opening film at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14 2008, and the film was released in the United States on October 3 2008.


Based on the 1995 novel "Blindness" by the Portuguese writer José Saramago, an epidemic causes blindness in a modern city, resulting in the collapse of society. The film follows a small handful of people as they try to survive hunger in a government makeshift prison.


*Julianne Moore as Doctor's Wife, the only person immune to the epidemic of blindness. Her sight is kept a secret by her husband and others, though as time goes on, she feels isolated in being the only one with sight.cite news | first=Johanna | last=Schneller | url= | title=Julianne Moore sees her way to a little bit of sanity | work=The Globe and Mail | publisher=CTVglobemedia | date=2007-08-25 | accessdate=2008-03-11 ] Moore described her character's responsibility: "Her biggest concern in the beginning is simply her husband. But her ability to see ultimately both isolates her and makes her into a leader. Meirelles wanted the character to look more heavyset, so Moore wore a fatsuit for her role. [cite news | first=Joseph V | last=Amodio | url=,0,706998.story | title=FAST CHAT: Julianne Moore | work=Newsday | publisher=Tribune Company | date=2008-06-01 | accessdate=2008-07-25 ] The director also gave Moore's character a wardrobe that would match the actor's skin and dyed blond hair, giving her the appearance of a "pale angel".
*Mark Ruffalo as Doctor.cite journal | first=Michael | last=Fleming | url= | title='Blindness' in Ruffalo's sight | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2007-06-04 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] Meirelles originally sought to cast actor Daniel Craig as Doctor, but negotiations were not finalized. [cite journal | first=Scott | last=Roxborough | url= | title=Meirelles takes a crack at 'Love' | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=The Nielsen Company | date=2007-05-21 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] Ruffalo said that his character loses the illusion of his self-perspective and perceives his wife as being a person he could aspire to. Ruffalo said, "That's a very difficult moment for anybody, to have all their perceptions completely shattered, but I think the Doctor finally comes to a peace about his inabilities and his downfall, and admits to an admiration for his wife's strengths." The actor wore a layer of makeup to appear older and also wore contact lenses to be blind while having his eyes open. The actor said of the experience as a blind character, "At first it's terrifying and then it's frustrating and then it gets quiet... we're tormented by our eyesight... you don't know this until you go blind... As an actor I suddenly felt free."
*Danny Glover as Man with Black Eye Patch. Glover described his character, "The Man with the Black Eye Patch comes into this new world of blindness already half blind, so I think he understands where he is within his own truth, within himself. I did feel like this character was very much like Saramago because he is completely unapologetic—he is who he is and he accepts who he is."cite news | first=Tom | last=Clavin | url=
| title=The ‘Savage Grace’ Of Julianne Moore | | publisher=Hamptons Online | date=2008-06-04 | accessdate=2008-07-25
] Glover explained his involvement with the role, "When you are blind you try to adopt another kind of sensitivity, so this role is definitely a challenge from a physical point of view." [cite news | first=Raul | last=Garces | url= | title=Glover Films "Blindness" in Uruguay | work=ABC News | publisher=The Walt Disney Company | date=2007-09-20 | accessdate=2008-03-11 ]
*Gael García Bernal as Bartender/King of Ward 3,cite web | url= | title=Blindness | work=Festival de Cannes | publisher=Focus Features | accessdate=2008-05-20 ] the film's villain. Meirelles followed the advice of Brazilian stage director Antunes Filho and changed the character from the novel by making him more ambiguous, explaining, "In the book, he is really a mean guy, terribly evil from the beginning... but I thought it was more interesting to have him be not evil but more like a child with a gun." Bernal described the result of his character, "I think the King is just very practical, very pragmatic. He appears cold because he is not an idealist and does not see hope, but he is a survivor, the same as all the others."
*Alice Braga as Woman with Dark Glasses. Braga described her character as mysterious, believing, "While she does sleep with men because it is easy money, I did not want to treat her purely as a prostitute. She starts out quite tough, but she develops very strong maternal feelings." Meirelles explained that the character's glasses and cascading hair gave her a cold appearance, but through her scenes with the orphaned Boy with the Squint, she develops warmth.Secondary characters include:
*Don McKellar as Thief. McKellar, who wrote the screenplay for the film, had also acted in the past and was cast as the character. The screenwriter described the Thief, "I like the trick where you think the Thief is a bad guy. He's a pathetic character you first believe is the villain of the piece and then you realize that, no, he's not even close to that. There's something charming about his desperation because, after a point, you meet the King of Ward Three and learn what real desperation is."
*Sandra Oh as Minister of Health.
*Yusuke Iseya as First Blind Man.
*Yoshino Kimura as First Blind Man's Wife.
*Maury Chaykin as Accountant.
*Mitchell Nye as Boy.
*Susan Coyne as Receptionist.
*Martha Burns as Woman with Insomnia.
*Leonardo Magalhaes as a blind Boy who is the leader of the a blind gang of starving kids.Director Fernando Meirelles chose an international cast. Producer Niv Fichman explained Meirelles's intent: "He was inspired by [Saramago's] great masterwork to create a microcosm of the world. He wanted it cast in a way to represent all of humanity."cite news | first=Jason | last=Guerrasio | url= | title=Production report - "Beautiful Darling," "Blindness," "Keep Coming Back," "On The Hook," "Sons of Liberty" | | publisher=IndieWire | date=2007-08-08 | accessdate=2008-03-11 ]


Adapting from the novel

Rights to the 1995 novel "Blindness" by José Saramago were first guarded by the author. Saramago explained, "I always resisted because it's a violent book about social degradation, rape, and I didn't want it to fall into the wrong hands." Director Fernando Meirelles had wanted to direct a film adaptation of "Blindness" in 1997, perceiving it as "an allegory about the fragility of civilization". Saramago originally refused to sell the rights to Meirelles, Whoopi Goldberg, or Gael García Bernal. [cite journal | first=Fernanda | last=Eberstadt | title=The Unexpected Fantasist | journal=The New York Times Magazine | publisher=The New York Times Company | date=2007-08-26 ] Producer Niv Fichman and screenwriter Don McKellar visited the author in the Canary Islands and eventually convinced the author to sell the rights. Conditions set by the author were to set the film in a country that would not be recognizable to audiences, [cite news | first=Martin | last=Knelman | title=Even non-TIFF movies got deals | work=Toronto Star | publisher=Torstar | date=2007-09-17 ] and to have the canine in the novel, the Dog of Tears, be a big dog.cite journal | url= | title=Cannes Q&A: Fernando Meirelles | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=Nielsen Company | date=2008-05-13 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ]

Meirelles originally envisioned directing the film in Portuguese similar to the novel's original language, but instead directed the film in English, believing, "If you do it in English you can sell it to the whole world and have a bigger audience."cite news | first=Kenneth | last=Turan | url=,0,7260725.story | title=Foresight pays off for 'Blindness' director | work=Los Angeles Times | publisher=Tribune Company | date=2008-05-15 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ] A change that the director pursued was placing the film in a contemporary setting, as opposed to the novel that he estimated took place in the 1930s or 1940s. Meirelles chose to make a contemporary film so audiences could relate to the characters. The director also sought a different allegorical approach. He described the novel as "very allegorical, like a fantasy outside of space, outside the world", and he instead took a naturalistic direction in engaging audiences to make the film less "cold".cite news | first=Erica | last=Abeel | url= | title=Cannes 08: Fernando Meirelles on "Blindness" | work=Independent Film Channel | publisher=Rainbow Media | date=2008-05-15 | accessdate=2008-07-25 ]

Don McKellar said about adapting the story, "None of the characters even have names or a history, which is very untraditional for a Hollywood story. The film, like the novel, directly addresses sight and point of view and asks you to see things from a different perspective." McKellar wrote the script so audiences would see the world through the eyes of the protagonist, the Doctor's Wife. He sought to have them question the humanity of how she observes but does not act in various situations, including a rape scene. The screenwriter consulted the author about why the wife took so long to act. McKellar noted, "He said she became aware of the responsibility that comes with seeing gradually, first to herself, then to her husband, then to her small family, then her ward, and finally to the world where she has to create a new civilization." The screenwriter wrote out the "actions and circumstances" that would allow the wife to find her responsibility.cite web | url= | title=Blindness | | publisher=Cannes Film Festival | accessdate=2008-07-25

Filming and casting

Meirelles chose São Paulo as the primary backdrop for "Blindness", though scenes were also filmed in Ontario, Canada and Montevideo, Uruguay. With all the characters aside from Julianne Moore's character being blind, the cast was trained to simulate blindness. The director also stylized the film to reflect the lack of point-of-view that the characters would experience. Meirelles said several actors he talked to were intimidated by the concept of playing characters without names: "I offered the film to some actors who said, 'I can't play a character with no name, with no history, with no past. With Gael (García Bernal), he said, 'I never think about the past. I just think what my character wants.'""Fall Movie Summer Preview, September: Blindness." "Entertainment Weekly", Iss. #1007/1008, August 22/29, 2008, pg.55.]

By September 2006, Fernando Meirelles was attached to "Blindness", with the script being adapted by Don McKellar. "Blindness", budgeted at $25 million as part of a Brazilian and Canadian co-production, was slated to begin filming in summer 2007 in the towns of São Paulo and Toronto. [cite news | author= | url= | title= Fernando Meirelles to Direct "Blindness" | | publisher=Crave Online Media, LLC | date=2006-09-13 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] Filming began in early July in São Paulo and Toronto.cite journal | first=Tatiana | last=Siegel | url= | title=3 succumb to 'Blindness' at Focus Int'l | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=The Nielsen Company | date=2007-06-12 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] Filming also took place in Montevideo, Uruguay.cite web | url= | title=Oscar-nominated director films movie based on a Nobel Prize winning book in Guelph | | publisher=City of Guelph | accessdate=2007-09-14 ] São Paulo served as the primary backdrop for "Blindness", being a city mostly unfamiliar to U.S. and European audiences. With its relative obscurity, the director sought São Paulo as the film's generic location. Filming continued through autumn of 2007.cite news | first=Reed | last=Johnson | title=Eyes wide open to a grim vision | work=Los Angeles Times | publisher=Tribune Company | date=2008-01-27 ]

The cast and crew included 700 extras who had to be trained to simulate blindness. Actor Christian Duurvoort from Meirelles's "City of God" led a series of workshops to coach the cast members. Duurvoort had researched the mannerisms of blind people to understand how they perceive the world and how they make their way through space. Duurvoort not only taught the extras mannerisms, but also to convey the emotional and psychological states of blind people. One technique was reacting differently to others as a blind person. Meirelles described, "When you're talking to someone, you see a reaction. When you're blind, the response is much flatter. What's the point [in reacting] ?"

Filmmaking style

Meirelles acknowledged the challenge of making a film that would simulate the experience of blindness to the audience. He explained, "When you do a film, everything is related to point-of-view, to vision. When you have two characters in a dialogue, emotion is expressed by the way people look at each other, through the eyes. Especially in the cut, the edit. You usually cut when someone looks over. Film is all about point-of-view and in this film there is none."cite news | first=Denis | last=Seguin | url=,,2159914,00.html | title=Blind faith | work=The Guardian | publisher=Guardian Media Group | date=2007-08-31 | accessdate=2008-03-11 ] Similar to the book, blindness in the film serves as a metaphor for human nature's dark side: "prejudice, selfishness, violence and willful indifference".

With only one character's point-of-view available, Meirelles sought to switch the point-of-views throughout the film, seeing three distinct stylistic sections. The director began with an omniscient vantage point, transited to the intact viewpoint of the Doctor's Wife, and changed again to the Man with the Black Eye Patch, who connects the quarantined to the outside world with stories. The director concluded the switching with the combination of the perspective of the Doctor's Wife and the narrative of the Man with the Black Eye Patch.

The film also contains visual cues, such as the 1568 painting "The Parable of the Blind" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Allusions to other famous artworks are also made. Meirelles described the intent: "It's about image, the film, and vision, so I thought it makes sense to create, not a history of painting, because it's not, but having different ways of seeing things, from Rembrandt to these very contemporary artists. But it's a very subtle thing."


Theatrical run

Prior to public release, the director screened "Blindness" to test audiences. Meirelles described the impact of test screenings: "If you know how to use it, how to ask the right questions, it can be really useful." A test screening of Meirelles' first cut in Toronto resulted in ten percent of the audience, nearly 50 people, walking out of the film early. Meirelles ascribed the problem to a scene of sexual violence that took place partway through the film, and the director edited the scene to be much shorter in the final cut.cite news | first=Elizabeth | last=Renzetti | url= | title=Why the director of Blindness likes test screenings | work=The Globe and Mail | publisher=CTVglobemedia | date=2008-04-16 | accessdate=2008-04-20 ] Meirelles explained his goal, "When I shot and edited these scenes, I did it in a very technical way, I worried about how to light it and so on, and I lost the sense of their brutality. Some women were really angry with the film, and I thought, 'Wow, maybe I crossed the line.' I went back not to please the audience but so they would stay involved until the end of the story." The director also found that a New York test screening expressed a uniquely American concern about a victim in the film failing to conduct an act of revenge. Meirelles believed this concern to reflect what Americans have learned to expect in their cinema.

Focus Features acquired the right to handle international sales for "Blindness". [cite journal | first=Gregg | last=Kilday | url= | title='Blindness' gains Focus for int'l sales | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=The Nielsen Company | date=2006-11-01 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] Pathé acquired U.K. and French rights to distribute the film, [cite journal | first=Adam | last=Dawtrey | url= | title=Pathe picks up Meirelles' 'Blindness' | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2007-06-06 | accessdate=2007-06-18 ] and Miramax Films won U.S. distribution rights with its $5 million bid. [cite journal | first=Gregg | last=Goldstein | url= | title=Miramax nabs U.S. rights to Meirelles' 'Blindess' | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=The Nielsen Company | date=2007-09-09 | accessdate=2008-03-11 ] "Blindness" premiered as the opening film at the 61st Cannes Film Festival on May 14 2008, [cite journal | first=Adam | last=Dawtrey | url= | title='Blindness' to open Cannes | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2008-04-29 | accessdate=2008-05-01 ] where it received a "tepid reception". [cite journal | first=Anne | last=Thompson | url= | title=Buyers proceed with caution at Cannes | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2008-05-20 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ] Straw polls of critics were "unkind" to the film. [cite news | first=Peter | last=Howell | url= | title=Blindness not getting glad eye | work=Toronto Star | publisher=Torstar | date=2008-05-16 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ]

"Blindness" was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2008 as a Special Presentation. [cite journal | first=Brendan | last=Kelly | url= | title=Toronto unveils Canadian selection | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2008-07-15 | accessdate=2008-07-25 ] The film also opened at the Atlantic Film Festival on September 11, 2008, [cite journal | first=Etan | last=Vlessing | url= | title='Blindness' to open Atlantic Film Fest | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=Nielsen Company | date=2008-08-01 | accessdate=2008-08-01] and will have its North American theatrical release on October 3, 2008.

Critical reception

The film has received mixed reviews from critics. As of October 10 2008, "Blindness" has 41% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.3/10.

"Screen International"'s Cannes screen jury which annually polls a panel of international film critics gave the film a 1.3 average out of 4, placing the film on the lower-tier of all the films screened at competition this year.cite web|url=|title=The screen jury at the Cannes Film Festival, 2008|publisher="Screen International"|accessdate=2008-06-12] Of the film critics from the "Screen International" Cannes critics jury, Alberto Crespi of the Italian publication "L'Unita", Michel Ciment of French film magazine "Positif" and Dohoon Kim of South Korean film publication "Cine21", all gave the film zero points (out of four).

Kirk Honeycutt of "The Hollywood Reporter" described "Blindness" as "provocative" but "predictable cinema", startling but failing to surprise. Honeycutt criticized the film's two viewpoints: Julianne Moore's character, the only one who can see, is slow to act against atrocities, and the behavior of Danny Glover's character comes off as "slightly pompous". Honeycutt explained, "This philosophical coolness is what most undermines the emotional response to Meirelles' film. His fictional calculations are all so precise and a tone of deadly seriousness swamps the grim action." [cite journal | first=Kirk | last=Honeycutt | url= | title=Film Review: Blindness | journal=The Hollywood Reporter | publisher=Nielsen Company | date=2008-05-18 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ] Justin Chang of "Variety" described the film: "Blindness" emerges onscreen both overdressed and undermotivated, scrupulously hitting the novel's beats yet barely approximating, so to speak, its vision." Chang thought that Julianne Moore gave a strong performance but did not feel that the film captured the impact of Saramago's novel. [cite journal | first=Justin | last=Chang | url= | title=Blindness | journal=Variety | publisher=Reed Business Information | date=2008-05-14 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ]

Stephen Garrett of "Esquire" complimented the director's style: "Meirelles [honors] the material by using elegant, artful camera compositions, beguiling sound design and deft touches of digital effects to accentuate the authenticity of his cataclysmic landscape." Despite the praise, Garrett believed that Meirelles's talent at portraying real-life injustice in "City of God" and "The Constant Gardener" did not suit him for directing the "heightened reality" of Saramago's social commentary. [cite journal | first=Stephen | last=Garrett | url= | title=First Look from Cannes: A Review of Blindness | journal=Esquire | publisher=Hearst Corporation | date=2008-05-15 | accessdate=2008-05-20 ]


The film has been strongly criticized by several organizations representing the blind community. Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind condemns and deplores this film, which will do substantial harm to the blind of America and the world." [cite press release
title = National Federation of the Blind Condemns and Deplores the Movie Blindness
publisher = National Federation of the Blind
date = 2008-09-30
url =
accessdate = 2008-10-01
] A press release from the American Council of the Blind said " is quite obvious why blind people would be outraged over this movie. Blind people do not behave like uncivilized, animalized creatures." [cite press release
title = Tens of Thousands of Blind Americans Object to the Movie ‘Blindness’
publisher = American Council of the Blind
date = 2008-09-29
url =
accessdate = 2008-10-01
] The National Federation of the Blind announced plans to picket theaters in at least 21 states, in the largest protest in the organization's 68-year history. [cite news
title = Blind activists plan protest of movie 'Blindness'
language = English
publisher = The Associated Press
year = 2008
date = 2008-09-30
url =


External links

* [ Official film site] , including trailer
*imdb title|id=0861689|title=Blindness
*mojo title|id=blindness08|title=Blindness
*amg title|id=1:361316|title=Blindness
* [ "Blindness"] Official international press release and production information.

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