From the official Cannes program:
"A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those
first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned
mental hospital where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly
breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak,
hording the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is
however one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is
unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine.
There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have
become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto
the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of
civilization crumble. Their voyage is fraught with danger, yet their
survival and ultimate redemption reflect the tenacity and depth of the
Summaries like that are usually submitted by representatives of the
film itself. Noting that, we may want to be aware that anything which
willfully purports to "reflect the tenacity and depth of the human spirit"
is probably some seriously pretentious schlock.
Blindness does have some leanings in that direction, but is actually a
Although the film was adapted by Don McKellar from a novel by Nobel
laureate Jose Saramago, this general approach to the apocalypse reminds me
very much of another film scripted by McKellar: Last Night. In the latter,
it is simply a given that the world will end tomorrow at noon. There are
no scientific or theological explanations offered for this phenomenon.
It's just a given, because the author wants to focus entirely on the
behavioral issues. What would people do on the last night of existence?
Would they bond? Would they eat rich food and take drugs and make love
non-stop? Would they take sleeping pills to pass through the final gates
without fear? Would they pass the time in quotidian tasks? Would the bad
people continue to hurt others until the very end? The premise of
Blindness comes from the same core of thought. It is simply not important
why the entire world is going blind, nor why the one woman is immune to
the epidemic. It just is that way. Period. Granting that premise, how
would people behave?
I'd say that the work stands with the best of science/fantasy fiction
in that it does not begin by trying to try to push some point of view,
then creating a contrived story to support it, but simply sets the premise
and tries to figure out what kind of world we would live in if the premise
were true. The difference between the two can be illustrated by the
difference between the book version of Children of Men and the film
version. The book started with this premise: "What would happen to a world
without children? What would the world be like 20 years after the last
birth? 40? 60?" From that origin, the author tried to picture a world
without youth: the services neglected for the lack of strong backs, the
lack of planning for the future, the poignantly deserted playgrounds and
schools, the increase of religious cults, the gradually increasing ratio
of women to men, etc. That hypothetical world did not become particularly
violent because violence derives mostly from the recklessness and
testosterone of young males, and there were none. On the other hand, the
movie version started with this premise: "Bush sucks. Oh, yeah, and
there's no more kids." From there, it was lost because it was forced to
abandon the first rule of thoughtful science fiction: pose the "what if"
question, then try to answer it as honestly as possible, with the ultimate
purpose being to study how human nature adapts to or is affected by
unusual or extreme conditions. We don't need science fiction to tell us
what would happen if Bush sucked. We saw it under actual laboratory
By the way, I liked the movie version of Children of God. It was an
interesting movie, excellent in many, many ways. I liked the story, but it
had almost nothing to do with the original premise about the lack of
children. It was a good film, but bad science fiction - because it made no
effort to stay true to its premise. It did not really try to picture what
the world would be like without young men (and the young women they fight
From that perspective, Blindness is not as good a movie as Children of
God, but it is better science fiction. The world it pictures is very much
like the world we might live in if everyone suddenly went blind. In one
small corner, the isolated hospital ward of the first few victims, society
degenerates into brutality. In the real world, given the premise, that
sort of micro-society would certainly emerge in some confined places.
Jails, for example. In contrast, the streets outside are not filled with
brutality, but simply sadness, chaos, and desperation. People wander in
search of food and shelter and a proper toilet. Vital services are
The scenes in the contamination ward are claustrophobic and painful to
watch, but the movie is very different after the escape from that ward.
The scenes on the streets of the city are thoughtfully constructed. Sure,
life is bad on the streets, but it's not entirely without hope. People
take joy where they can - exulting, for example, in a warm summer rain
which allows them to bathe and gather drinking water. The small "family"
that becomes our anchor in the film finds a modicum of peace and even gets
to celebrate Thanksgiving - and they truly believe there are things to be
thankful for, even in those black times. And the ending even offers a ray
of cautious optimism.