José Saramago — Blindness

The very evening I finished reading José Saramago’s brilliant novel Blindness, I found out that Fernando Meirelles has made a film of it staring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Jesus Christ, I thought, who in their right mind would want to see that? Don’t get me wrong, it is a very powerful work, one of Saramago’s best, but it ranks along with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as one of the most scathing indictments of human nature ever written.

Blindness is the story of what happens to a city when its inhabitants are suddenly, without any explanation, struck blind. At first the government tries to quarantine the victims to prevent the anomaly from spreading, but that only serves to land those already suffering into the ninth circle of hell.

Dante comes to mind quite often when reading the chapters dealing with the internment of the sightless, as does The Plague by Albert Camus. Saramago repeatedly strips away the thin veneer of civilization to show us the animals lurking right beneath the first few layers of dirt and skin.

I’m guessing that Julianne Moore is playing the wife of an ophthalmologist who was one of the first to lose his vision. When the government comes to take her husband away, she claims that she has also been struck. This gives the doctor and the small band of internees that surround her the advantage once they reach the former asylum, but the doctor’s wife is cursed to witness the horrors and degradation that await them all regardless.

If anyone could pull this off, perhaps it is Meirelles. His City of God was a masterpiece and depicted the slums of Rio de Janeiro unflinchingly—yet at the same time found real beauty among the garbage and squalor. I’ll still bet that he has chosen to scale down the utter sewer that the world of Saramago’s novel becomes in no time at all.

My one problem with the movie’s casting is that the doctor’s wife is supposed to be very plain looking. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when the other women tell her how beautiful she is, having never seen her with their own eyes—it is her inner beauty they recognize. I can’t imagine that scene having the same impact when it’s Julianne Moore, even when caked in human feces (or not).


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