That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Blindness & The Kite Runner

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008 8:28 pm—Film

Blindness (Canada/Brazil/Japan 2008, Drama/Mystery), Writer: Don McKellar; Director: Fernando Meirelles

The Kite Runner (USA 2007, Drama/Romance/War), Writer: David Benioff; Director: Marc Forster

I’ve been waiting eight years to see the film adaptation of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize winning 1995 novel, Blindness. It tells the harrowing story of what happens when a city is struck by an epidemic of white blindness. Only one person is spared – the Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore), who feigns blindness so she can care for her husband in quarantine.

The disease is a metaphor for the blindness that has overtaken mankind for the last century (or more). Saramago paints a world in which people are blind to one another’s experiences, viewpoints, desires, and even their basic needs. If people can’t see each other, they can’t see the impact they have on one another, making it easier to do wrong by them. In Saramago’s words, “fighting has always been… a form of blindness.”

As more people lose their vision, the mental hospital in which the blind are quarantined becomes overcrowded, and it isn’t long before the weakly forged order breaks down. One of the blind (Gael García Bernal) declares himself King of Ward Three. After getting their hands on guns, the King and his wingmen hoard the food and force the others to pay for their meals with jewelry, watches and money. When they run out of possessions, the King demands that they send their women in exchange for food. As all hell on earth breaks loose in this microcosmic quarantine, people’s morals, strength and humanity are called into question.

When I first read about the casting of Blindness, I hated the idea of Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as the Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife. They’re great actors, but I thought they were too young and far too trendy for the roles. None of the characters in the novel have proper names. They’re meant to represent different versions of “every man,” so I didn’t think casting big marquee names would serve the story.

Now, having seen the movie, I find that the casting works surprisingly well. The cinematography and lighting completely de-glam the stars, and Blindness is such a strong ensemble piece that even Bernal can disappear into the crowd.

Overall, Blindness is a valiant adaptation. It does a good job of staying true to the novel’s essence, while transforming the story to suit another medium. That said, I wish the filmmakers had taken more artistic risks (and hadn’t felt the need to add a narrator).

Saramago wrote Blindness using very little punctuation. It’s an English teacher’s worst nightmare, all those run-on sentences, but it works beautifully in the novel. That artfulness isn’t captured throughout the entire film, which follows a more standard narrative than the novel. But it is beautifully adapted in the moments when people and objects are blurred to create abstract images, leaving the viewer—like the characters—to rely on sound. This treatment is especially effective during the rape scene. It’s both kind, because it lets the viewer off the hook, sparing us the horrifying imagery; and staggering, because we’re left to imagine the worst.

Something the movie conveyed to me more powerfully than the novel did is how essential woman’s nurturing role is to life. At the beginning of the film, the Doctor’s Wife appears to stay at home, spending her time baking exquisite desserts for her husband and speaking in a high-pitched, sing-song voice. Her life is devoted to caring for her man. Suddenly, in the face of this disease, these same tasks—preparing beds, finding food, literally cleaning people’s shit off the floor—are revealed to be life or death matters. The Doctor’s Wife becomes a hero for performing the same everyday tasks that her husband barely had time to thank her for in their previous existence.

Blindness is definitely worth seeing. Just be warned that it’s heavy and disturbing—as it should be.

A quickie about another adaptation, The Kite Runner. I rented it a few weeks ago, right after finishing Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 debut novel of the same name. This film, to me, achieved the opposite of Blindness. It’s a literal translation (if the screenwriter was referencing Coles Notes), but it fails to capture the novel’s essence.

The Kite Runner
follows Amir from his days as a young boy in Kabul who delights in reading to his servant Hassan beneath the pomegranate tree, to a haunted adult who moved to California but can’t escape the memory of his betrayal to Hassan. Eventually, Amir returns to Afghanistan amid the horror of the Taliban to help Hassan’s son, and find “a way to be good again.”

The movie covers the main plot points, but it’s as if they’ve been gleaned from the book with a highlighter. Amir and Hassan’s deep bond isn’t properly captured, leaving the story with very little weight. Removed from the novel’s rich context, the dialogue is trite and without impact.

I don’t recommend the film, but the novel is one of my new favourites. It’s beautiful, poetic, moving, upsetting and uplifting. And I found it enlightening to read a personal take on Afghanistan, outside of what you read in the paper or see on the news.

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