Perhaps a decent film couldn’t have been made from Jose Saramago’s Blindness. Like any great work of art, Saramago’s novel resists transference. A gathering of words beaded into narrative, paced by rhythmic commas that both push forward and trip the eye, organized into paragraphs like economically shaped capsules of character and consciousness, and chapter breaks that arrive suddenly, stranding the reader in portentous white space, Blindness exists fully, necessarily, on the page.
Yet, as its title suggests, the novel explores (and exemplifies) the challenges that face any artist in any medium; limitations — in this case a cast of characters incapable of seeing for themselves and for, as they are our proxy, us — push the artist to create and adapt to new terms. Save for a single crucial character’s perspective, Saramago refrains from visual description. When reading, the lack is appropriately conspicuous (and chilling) but also exhilarating: what remains seems sharper, and hits harder, than it otherwise might.
If one were to insist on adapting the text, why in the world would one ignore its central aesthetic challenge? Similar to stage-to-film transfers that “open up” action with camera movements that distract from a scene’s point of being (Proof, Hurlyburly among others), Fernando Meirelles’s Blindness strains to visualize lack of vision. Shots without visual representation (all sound, no picture) are here brief and scarce. It’s as if the audience — after 80 post-silent years of cinema-going — were deemed too immature to be left alone with sound, even for a few seconds. Which of course is bunk, as is Blindness. Forget about Saramago — worthy, this inept film fails on its own degraded terms. Insistent on giving us something to look at, Meirelles can’t muster a single memorable or essential image.
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Blindness.