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Blindness is a novel by award winning author, José Saramago. The novel tells the story of a plague of blindness and it's effects on society and the world as it spreads.
During a literary discussion with a colleague at work I mentioned my love of epidemic and zombie stories; She, who wasn't as avid a zombie fan as I was, told me that one of my stories reminded me of the novel Blindness. After hearing her brief summary, I was hooked and bought it that very day.
Any reader who picks up this book will first have to deal with the fact that this novel is written in a very unique style of commas replacing periods, making for almost run-on sentences and a bit of confusion as to whether they're reading exposition or dialogue. Anyone who is worried about this confusion can pick up the audiobook version like myself which has no such confusion. Regardless of the version they pick up, some readers may be a bit put off by how verbose the writing may be, but fear not, for if you are intimidated by this lengthy read you can always check out the film which I will talk about later.
The novel tells the story of various people starting with their "Patient Zero," as he begins accidentally infecting anyone he comes into contact with until we are introduced to the main character, The Doctor's Wife, who is immune. We then follow her throughout the story and see the downfall of civilization through her eyes as her immediate group keeps her immunity secret to avoid the scorn and dependance that would inevitably follow.
One of my personal favourite elements of the story was that no one is ever mentioned by name because as the author points out early on, without a face to attach it to, names begin to lose meaning. People instead are referred to by titles that better describe them like: The man with the eyepatch, or The woman with dark glasses, or even The boy with the squint. Normally the names of characters become blurred or forgotten as I move from book to book but the titles make each character unique and I can't picture myself confusing The woman with dark glasses from Blindness, with Wendy Torrance from The Shining.
All in all, the novel Blindness was a great read with some very intense scenes that will add a unique flair to anyone's reading library.
Image from WikipediaThe film:
I both love, and hate watching movies based off of books I've read. I love the fact that I can see someone's interpretation of a much loved character and hate the inevitable loss of detail that comes from compressing a novel into a two hour film. Fortunately, I am happy to say that the film Blindness, is probably the most faithful film based on a novel that I have ever seen. I'm not saying that it was a perfect transposition by any means. There were scenes and characters that I hoped to see from the novel, but I felt that everything that was removed was chosen correctly since it did not push the story forward.
The film stars Julianne Moore as The doctor's wife, the one person immune to the epidemic, and Mark Ruffalo as The doctor, the reluctant leader of their immediate group. With an all star cast of some of my favourite actors, I was anticipating a new entrant to my top ten movie list so I was surprised to see how it's ratings were much lower than the book. The same colleague, after hearing how confused I was by the difference in ratings loaned me her copy of the film and suggested I find out for myself.
I was curious how the film would depict the frequent references to filth and nudity that became a constant when society began it's downfall, but I was happy to see that both were downplayed since, in a visual medium, the briefest image of either would be far more evocative. Instead, nudity became a simple fact of life where some people in the background would embrace it while the main characters in the foreground were more reserved. The filth as well which was described in great detail in the novel, was instead restrained to trash and messes on the wall as the entire building began to look more grungy and dilapidated.
One scene in particular jumps out at me and I'll try to remain as spoiler free as possible as I describe it. At one point, one particular group demands women from another, and during the ensuing conflict one of the women dies. The remaining women, battered and filthy, return with the woman and take great care to clean her before they then bury her. The scene in the book was quite intense and marked a turning point for The doctor's wife so I was nervous that the film would fall short. In the film they gave an honest representation of the scene and through use of lighting washed out the details of the woman's body so although they were moving and washing a naked woman the focus was instead on the care the surrounding characters took with the body and not on the nudity itself. The scene was so well done that I prefer it to my visualization from the novel which is a rare occurrence for me.
It wasn't until near the end of the film that I remembered that the characters were described by titles instead of names and since the film had little to no narration, they were used even less. The fact that it took me that long to notice made me realize that names in general were less important than I thought to a film which was very interesting concept to me that I continued thinking on long after the movie was over.
After finishing the movie and returning to my colleague with my thoughts, it became obvious as to why the ratings were so different between the novel and book. The novel was a great story full of emotion, conflict, and growth and the film did an equal, and at times, better job at showing this but there were two fundamental reasons why the film would fall short. The first was that this was in essence, a story about seeing and not seeing. As you read you can picture both sides, visualizing what it is like to see the problems that The doctor's wife would experience, while imagining what it would be like for the surrounding characters who were wandering around without our most integral of senses. When we see what is going on as we do with the film we are not able to block the visual stimulus and imagine what it is like not to see. The second is that people who watch movies are more likely to prefer action, or fast paced and over the top scenes. Both of which are lacking in the novel. The film which is more of a slow building drama and commentary on society doesn't fit the typical archetype of a high rated movie. That doesn't mean it's a bad movie, but it does mean that it is not the average movie goers cup of tea.
In the end, both the novel, and the movie have their merits. If you're looking for fantasy or sci-fi the novel isn't for you, just like an action movie buff would probably not enjoy the film. For those of you who want an intense slow building dramatic commentary on society like the one I've described then Blindness would be a great addition to your library.