Seeing a film adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness is like eating pakwan for one who has read the novel first and saw its appropriated equivalent in film second. You can’t just swallow all that you’ve bitten, your tongue has to feel for the seeds that needs to be thrown.
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women.
Reading the book is like in a feast/pest of words; gives you both enjoyment and suffocation. Enjoyment is brought by the sheer fascination of the richness of Saramago’s imagination, the peoples’ blindness as plague and the plague as social metaphor. Suffocation is to be read in human debasement, in characters losing humanity and living (in) indignities.
There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers---among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears---through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.
One can just imagine all kinds of shits blind men and women, adult and children, could do this world. Chaos may be the right term to describe its result. Beautifully chaotic in the world we know as literature, but not in the real world. Saramago’s vision if given its true form would only mean one thing---the end of the world as we know it.
We have no alternative, said his (the Doctor) wife, besides, the regime is here,...anyone who doesn’t pay can suit himself, that’s his privilege, but he’ll get nothing to eat and he cannot expect to be fed at the expense of the rest of us, We shall give up what we’ve got and hand over eveythhing, said the doctor, And what about those who have nothing to give, asked the pharmacist’s assistant, They will eat whatever the others decide to give them, as the saying rightly goes, from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. (p. 141)
Seeing the film only gives half of what we have imagined. Film images, however plenty and fast-moving, could not get us right to the fullness of our own novelistic construction. My own version could be more brutal than the film’s telling. Saramago’s novel is short of subtlety. The film version however, is timidly controlled to the point of disappointment.
They (blind women) knew what awaited them, the news of the abuses they would suffer was no secret, nor were these abuses anything really new, for in all certainty this is how the world began. What terrified them was not so much the rape, but the orgy, the shame, the anticipation of the terrible night ahead,... The worst thing of all is that I might feel some pleasure, one of the women thought to herself. (p. 187)
Time is the enemy of any film adaptation. A two-hour film is only good as to show the narrative flow. It always is short of full characterization, always aspires for condensation, and always selective of what is dramatically representable.
Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, do you want me to tell what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but not seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. (p 326)
It is after all, just a slice of pakwan with it seeds meticulously taken.