I sat in on a roundtable luncheon for the film Blindness the other day; as far as roundtables go, it was a nice affair; there were four tables of journalists, and they rotated the talent through the tables, giving us about 15 minutes with each set. It's always interesting to me to talk to the actors and filmmaker about a film like this; it gives you a different perspective that you have from just watching the film.
A word of caution: There are spoilers in these interviews about certain aspects of the film, but I'm including them because they provide a good deal of context about the film and the motivations of the characters. If you prefer to go into seeing the film blind, as it were, you'll not want to read this until after you've seen it. If you do want to learn more about the film, the interview writeup is after the jump ...
Our first grouping was Danny Glover, Alice Braga and Gael Garcia Bernal. Braga talked about the shooting of the film; in particular, about how they rehearsed the much talked-about rape scene by being blindfolded and groped by the men, to get a feel for how frightening that would be. She talked also about making a film where the characters have all gone blind, and how one of the challenges was how to act blind progressively, that after a while you would get used to being blind and would be able to find your way around better. "You would retain images of how things would look; you also are more attuned to hearing things around you, react to the sound of someone walking nearby," she said, but with so many people in the scenes, had to remember to be blind all the time, not just when you know the focus is on you.
Bernal talked about getting to play the film's bad guy, the King of Ward Three. He said he didn't feel his character was inherently evil, just opportunistic. "People would react according to their human condition. Some people would react by building an organized community, like Ward One does, others would react by trying to take whatever they could, like Ward Three. This character wants to survive, to bring together the Ward Three community at first through humor, and then through providing them with the things they need."
Danny Glover, asked about his character's role as both the narrator and moral center of the film, said he didn't think about that. "I just thought about the character within the context of the full story. The ideas of loss and desire. He's lonely, he's a writer, isolated to some degree. So he observes. The first moment you see him, that element of observation is there. observant of what's around him, which is evident from the first scene you see him in. He develops these relationships within the collective, the community, that he never had before. These kind of relationships are new to him. It doesn't matter whether he has one eye as he does at the beginning or no eyes."
Our second round was with actress Julianne Moore, who talked about developing the character of the doctor's wife. "I didn't set an arc for my character, never really knew where it would end up, I just kind of took it one day at a time, because she wouldn't know where she was going." About the rape scene, and whether she felt it was realistic that it took a while for her character to take action to stop the women from being abused, Moore said, "I ask myself if that's something more informed by our movie mentality than by a real life mentality, we expect people to take action immediately. But in real life, people don't always do that. She takes responsibility very gradually. And I like that ambiguity. It's not what you see in movies. I like that."
Talking about working with director Fernando Meirelles, Moore noted, "I was working with a great director, and by great, I really mean it. Within the larger frame he paints with tiny, tiny brush -- he's aware that every gesture has a type of meaning. He lets you work with such significant subtlety, and that's very rare. It's fantastic. In life our behavior is pretty darn subtle -- you'll know your husband is mad, but no one else is. And Fernando is working on that level of behavior, which is really great."
On the script, and playing a character who has no name, no identity other than "the doctor's wife," Moore noted, "The one part I had a problem with is when new people come into the ward and count off not by name, but by profession -- number one, taxi driver, and so on ... and I thought, wow, we wouldn't really do that, we'd say our names. Even in the dialog, it's a little bit stilted at times, a little bit off, so it was challenging, it was different."
Moore talked also about the relationship between her character and her husband, played by Mark Ruffalo. "Her husband tells her at one point 'you're acting like my mother' and he's deliberately trying to hurt her by saying that. You see at the beginning, he treats her like a child, and then later accuses her of acting like his mother. They're childless for some reason, you don't know why. They're not partners at the beginning, but by the end they are, you kind of see that natural romance in them develop."
Screenwriter and actor Don McKellar talked about writing the script: "If you've read the book, it's basically one long run-on sentence. So I had to figure out who is actually speaking. This book, it doesn't have people go off in long paragraphs of inner thought, but the actual style of the narration made it difficult to adapt. It took a very long time to write. I wrote drafts where I naturalized it, gave the characters jobs and names and memories, but that felt too Hollywood. It didn't feel like the book. And what I loved about the book is that at the beginning they're defined more by their jobs and what they do, and by the end they become actual characters."
On the difficulties of making a film about blindness, McKellar said that when they started shopping it around, they got a lot of, "Why would you want to make a movie about a book called Blindness?" He said that when he was writing the script, "I thought that all those film theory sort of things about seeing, and point of view, they became essential. And that's why we were excited about working with Fernando, because I knew he would get that that element is essential. He cares a lot about those "film theory" kind of things."
McKellar talked also about acting in the film as well as writing it. "I didn't cast myself for the role of the thief, that was all Fernando. But I thought it was interesting, the idea of this screenwriter playing this vile character."
About Bernal's character, McKellear said, " I don't believe in inherent evil, like there's evil-doers. I think he seems himself first as entertaining his troops, he's a natural leader, I think, someone who can bring his people what they need. But it's all about actions defining character, and by his actions, he ends up becoming a bad guy. The characters learn who they are but what they do and who they become. It's the same with the doctor's wife, she ends up learning her responsibilities and her capabilities."
Discussing the film's rape scene, McKellar said, "For me, you know, it's in the book, and I wanted a similar feeling. At a certain point when you're reading it you think, I don't want to be here anymore. But I think you do need to hit that low point to reach the emotional release later in the film. But I didn't want it to be gratuitous. What do you show? In the book it takes the doctor's wife much longer to get to that action. People ask me, why wouldn't she kill earlier? And I think, kill sooner? Killing is not so easy, you know? It would take a lot for someone like her to rise to the place where she can actually kill somebody. But I really wanted the audience thinking, why doesn't she kill, and asking themselves, why do I think she should kill. It's too easy in films to see, kill, and kill and kill."
Director Fernando Meirelles talked about placing the film in an ambiguous international setting: " I wanted to make it an international film, it's about mankind. We didn't want to set it specifically in the US because people would try to read it as an allegory for the US -- Ward Three as being representative of Bush, Ward One as Afghanistan or Iraq ... I didn't want it to be about that."
Talking about the shooting of the film, Meirelles said, "When I'm shooting I'm obsessed with the monitor. Working with Julianne, for a director, it's great ... Most of the film was shot with two cameras, sometimes three, sometimes even four." He talked about using a "blind" camera --set up but not operated or moving, so there are many shots with this blind camera where people move in and out of the frame, or they're cut off.
On the philosophical and social implications of the film, Meirelles had a lot to say. "I think if such an event would happen ... it would be very much like what we show in the film; some people would get very depressed and just lie there, some would try to create order, some would get very aggressive. It can be seen as a psychological drama, how we sometimes don't see the person next to us, like the doctor and his wife, he doesn't see how great she is, and she's right in front of him.
"At the same time, you can see the sociological drama. Should we have leaders like Mark Ruffalo, who try to lead their people, or like Gael, who want to have fun? Which ward would you want to choose? I think maybe I would choose Ward Three -- there's food, there's fun. Ward One is more ethical, but what's the right thing? To protect your people, provide for them? Or to act in a more ethical way, even if that means your people are not provided for. I think, I would not want to starve to death. Honestly, looking to myself, I think I would consider going to the place where there is food. When you're starving, you don't think so well.
"The doctor's wife has to learn to see as well -- at the beginning her whole world is the doctor and her home. She has a moment when she wants to be a superhero, I can do more. But then she breaks down and realizes, okay, I can take care of this family I've built here.
"One of the more interesting cultural aspects I've found out in screening this film. The American audience, the first thing they think coming out of the screening is, why doesn't she kill him sooner? And in Canada and Brazil, no one said that. In the book, she's raped three times before she reaches that point. But that's the first thought, because cinema tells us that. Because it's killing, you don't just kill somebody! She's a housewife, she wouldn't just kill somebody. I wouldn't, maybe."