Usually when you hear that a great novel that helped earn its author the Nobel Prize is being made into a movie, you would get a little nervous. Especially when that book is Jose Saramago’s Blindness, a novel that is easily imaginable as a movie, but not easily imaginable as a good movie.
In Blindness a strange plague of white blindness sweeps through an unnamed city. The blind are herded into camps, but it’s too little too late – soon everyone is blind, except a doctor’s wife. Saramago paints a frightening picture of society breaking down and man’s worst features coming to the fore – sort of George Romero with glaucoma instead of zombies. The basic action of the novel would make for a fine movie, but it’s the philosophical underpinnings that make the book something incredible.
The good news is that a director is attached who can quite possibly make a film worthy of the book – Fernando Meirelles. Meirelles is the immensely talented director City of God and The Constant Gardener (a film that didn’t work for me but which nonetheless is an expertly crafted and smart movie), and this isn’t the first time he’s tried to adapt Blindness – Saramago turned him down when he sought the option in 1998. Actually, Saramago turned down the producers originally as well. The 84 year old told them “cinema destroys imagination.” He apparently relented after they flew halfway around the world to meet him. And probably after they threw some crazy money at him.
Canadian writer/director/actor Don McKellar is writing the script and will have a small role in the movie.
It turns out that this could be a franchise, by the way. Saramago has written a sequel, called Seeing, where 83% of the residents of the unnamed city submit blank ballots in an election, sparking a civil crisis. I haven’t read it yet (and may wait a little while – Saramago’s style, with few periods and no quotation marks delineating dialogue, can be tough when you’re not in a focused reading mood), but it’s been getting excellent reviews.