The movie Blindness premiered last Friday, starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. It’s based on the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago — I listened to the audio version of the book years ago, when it was first publishsed.
The book was praised for its use of blindness as a metaphor — a bunch of people in one city suddenly go blind, and the government quarantines them, afraid the blindness is contagious. Anyone trying to escape is killed immediately.
The prisoners are supposed to be given food and supplies, but that turns out to be an empty promise. It’s a survival story, kind of like the TV show lost. And they really are. Lost, I mean. Example: when the blind inmates can’t find their way to the bathrooms, they simply relieve themselves on the floor or in their own beds. Not exactly a positive look at what happens to people who lose their sight!
And so, when Blindness premiered as a movie last Friday, blind activists came out to protest. Here’s a description from an Associated Press story:
For Marc Maurer, who’s blind, such a scenario – as shown in the movie “Blindness” – is not a clever allegory for a breakdown in society. Instead, it’s an offensive and chilling depiction that Maurer fears could undermine efforts to integrate blind people into the mainstream.
“The movie portrays blind people as monsters, and I believe it to be a lie,” said Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind.
“Blindness doesn’t turn decent people into monsters.”
I chose to stay home rather than join the protest — I explain why in an essay called Blindness over Blindness. I recorded the essay for Chicago Public Radio early last week, and it aired while I was in Little Rock. If you missed it (like I did!) you can listen to the essay online — once you get to the Chicago Public Radio page, there’s a little button thing there you have to click to play, I think it either says “download” or pop out,” can’t remember now. And in the end, maybe it’s not worth all that trouble to hear the essay — Blindness got bad reviews from movie critics. Unlike the newly-blind in the film, few movie-goers are falling over themselves to live the metaphor.