Echo Bridge Entertainment is one of the leaders in budged-priced Blu-ray releases, frequently combining multiple films in one package. One of their latest twofers includes Blindness (2008) and Proof (2005), a pair of interesting, unrelated dramas.
Of course, interesting doesn’t always mean good. Blindness was directed by Fernando Meirelles. Don McKellar’s screenplay was based on a novel of the same name by José Saramago. The film received mixed reviews, seemingly evoking a love-it-or-hate-it response. Basically, an epidemic of blindness sweeps society. People suddenly can’t see anything, but ophthalmologists can’t find anything wrong with their patients’ eyes. Quarantine camps are set up to contain those stricken, but eventually no one sighted is left to run them.
Long before he was Dr. Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo plays an eye doctor (the movie doesn’t name any of its characters) who is one of the earlier victims of the mysterious affliction. His wife (Julianne Moore) accompanies him to the quarantine zone at a local hospital, even though she hasn’t lost her vision. As the building fills up, the story takes on a sort of Lord of the Flies approach as the patients become embroiled in a power struggle.
No one is actually attempting to tend to these patients. Food is delivered by armed guards until they lose sight themselves. Moore, as the doctor’s wife, is the only one we ever see who retains her vision. Many of the people become animalistic, with conditions deteriorating as people choose to flop around naked through urine and feces-filled hallways. The group that rises to power via sheer force begins raping all the women nightly. While most of the film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of the quarantine zone, the final act opens up the location somewhat as we begin to see what society has become.
There’s a hint of religious sanctimoniousness in the “message” presented by the film. Ruffalo, grasping at straws early on to explain his patients’ blindness, tells his wife he suspects it might be a variation of visual agnosia, a condition that renders a person unable to recognize or process visual stimulus. Moore smugly wonders if that condition is related to agnosticism, attempting to draw a connection between the blindness and a lack of faith. The religious overtones are kept almost buried throughout, but they provide just about the only reasonable explanation for the intended meaning of the film. There certainly isn’t any attempt at explaining the epidemic in medical terms, mumbo-jumbo or otherwise (Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion was much better in this department).
The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind both condemned Blindness. It’s not hard to see why. Intentional or not, the filmmakers suggest that individuals without sight are prone to resorting only to the most base level of human instinct. Civil behavior mostly vanishes. Even Ruffalo’s kindly doctor resorts to cheating on his wife, with Moore’s sighted character watching his indiscretion no less. Many of the characters, including those portrayed by Maury Chaykin and Gael García Bernal (residents of the violent Ward 3), exhibit no shred of recognizable human compassion. Even worse are the roaming bands of people rooting around for food and attacking one another. Blindness ultimately becomes a zombie movie, with the loss of sight apparently rendering everyone mindless. No wonder some folks were offended.
In 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85:1, Blindness looks terrific. César Charlone’s cinematography is fairly stylized, de-emphasizing color in favor of a washed out, high contrast look. This isn’t the kind of transfer where colors “pop,” but it represents the filmmakers’ intent very well. Sharpness is excellent and black levels are deep. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally effective, enveloping the viewer during the increasingly chaotic quarantine zone scenes. Dialogue is strong and centered and Marco Antonio Guimarães’ haunting score sounds great as well.
This Blu-ray of Blindness drops a featurette and some deleted scenes that were included on Echo Bridge’s previous release of the film. I’m guessing this was due to the amount of material crammed onto one disc. But “A Vision of Blindness” is retained, an excellent 55-minute “making of” that is worth watching for an explanation of the filmmakers’ vision (regardless of whether or not one feels they achieved it).
The disc’s second feature, Proof, was directed by John Madden and based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name written by David Auburn. I have no idea what the play is like, but the movie is kind of a frustratingly intriguing shaggy dog story. Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) has very recently lost her father Robert (Anthony Hopkins), a math genius who turns up throughout the movie via flashbacks and Catherine’s imagined conversations. Robert struggled with, and eventually succumbed to, mental illness. Catherine is stressing over the possibility that she may have inherited her father’s problems. She’s also a mathematician, but caring for her ailing father in his final years took a toll on her progress.
A former student of Robert’s, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), is obsessed with the idea that Robert left behind some great, undiscovered mathematical breakthroughs. He and Catherine strike up a romantic relationship, strained somewhat due to Catherine’s fairly intense neuroses. A mathematical proof is discovered by Hal, which he initially assumes Robert wrote. When Catherine lays claim to it, Hal is skeptical. Catherine’s sister, Claire (Hope Davis), doesn’t buy it either, of course she even doubted the existence of Hal prior to Catherine introducing him to her.
The easiest reason to recommend Proof is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Golden Globe-nominated performance. This is one of Paltrow’s very best performances, far more nuanced than her Academy Award-winning turn in Shakespeare in Love (also directed by Madden). She’s excellent in conveying her confusion and conflicted feelings about her father’s passing. Ultimately I don’t think the story is really that cinematic, but at 100 minutes it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Hope Davis is also quite effective in her supporting role. She and Paltrow realistically capture the essence of a troubled adult sibling relationship.
One thing Proof shares with Blindness is a relatively subdued palette. Proof looks absolutely fine in 1080p, with a transfer that is pleasingly sharp. By design, Alwin Kulcher’s cinematography is rather cool and muted. Much of the film plays out under low lighting circumstances, but detail is always fairly strong. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty straightforward, with easily intelligible dialogue. Stephen Warbeck’s low-key score stays mostly in the front channels and is quietly supportive of this introspective character drama.
While Blindness lost some features, Proof gains some. Apparently, Echo Bridge’s earlier standalone release was absolutely free of supplemental material. Here we get audio commentary by director John Madden. There’s also a selection of deleted scenes and a short promotional “making of” feature, both presented in standard definition.