“Blindness” –Seeing is Believing

 

Blindness

Based on a popular novel by the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago, Blindness (2008) is a dystopian tale of survival in the face of a pandemic.

 Blindness opens with an affluent Japanese businessman suddenly blocking traffic during rush hour. Inexplicably blinded, he is unable to continue driving and a seemingly good Samaritan offers to help him. When they arrive at the Japanese man’s upscale apartment, however, the “good Samaritan” steals his car and escapes. Soon the entire city is overtaken by a pandemic of “white blindness”, like driving in a snow storm. The pandemic becomes global.

The tale of survival begins. Quarantined in an abandoned mental asylum, the rules of society soon come to a screeching halt with the powerful preying on the weak. Only one woman (Julianne Moore), whose husband (Mark Ruffalo) ironically, is an eye doctor now blinded— is the witness to horrific acts. Keeping her sight a secret, she guides the blind, surviving what has become a totalitarian government imposing ruthless measures on the blind in order to maintain control and subjugation. Meanwhile, the residents are becoming increasingly hopeless and desperate, fearful of their circumstances, and taken advantage by a tyrannical “Ward 3” leader (Gael Garcia Bernal). The insurrection against the despot results in chaos and brutality towards each other.

Blindness depicts the difference between civilized society and a totally barbaric one as the thinnest of boundaries. The norms of society are fragile and easily broken. Blindness, like Lord of the Flies, raises the question: What would I do in such a situation? A thought-provoking and well-executed film!

“Spotlight” –Illuminating Corruption and Cover-up

SpotlightIn this Academy Award-nominated film, Spotlight (on my Top Ten Films for 2015) reveals the 2002 exposé into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child molestation and rape by priests taking place over two decades.

Unflinching in its focus, “Spotlight” underscores a subtle outrage and sense of resignation about the power of institutions. We watch as the “Spotlight “ team—named for undercover exposés of difficult-to-prove cases– chases down leads; goes through archives with missing documents; and interviews priests, judges, and victims. The investigative Spotlight team at the Boston Globe is defined by their tenacity as they overcome powerful political interests committed to crushing their investigation.

Investigative journalism seems so “old-school” in our sound-bite, entertainment culture, but Spotlight deftly recognizes the heroism of the Boston Globe’s team, in a similar fashion to “All The President’s Men”. Igniting an almost unbelievable, worldwide scandal, the Boston Globe clearly demonstrates a conspiracy on the part of the Catholic hierarchy to protect priests while silencing the victims and their families. The impact on a predominantly Catholic city, the guilt of those who chose to ignore its victims and the adversarial response of the Catholic Church are not the major themes of “Spotlight”.

“Spotlight” excels at building up the sense of injustice and outrage over the young victims who have no voice. Only the Catholic archdiocese and the legal system that is entwined with it have the powerful voice of defense and obfuscation. Despite the fact that we all know the repercussions of this narrative, seeing it through the eyes of these reporters has its own power.

The ensemble cast–John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, and Mark Ruffalo as the main reporters, and Liev Schreiber and Michael Keaton as their editors—keeps the focus on the true story of institutional corruption and cowardice that fails the young victims of sexual abuse. Perhaps one of the most unforgettable and stunning scenes is between Rachel McAdams (playing a reporter) and a priest who tries to explain his motivation for child rape. McAdams’s quiet, perfectly calibrated and understated response is truly an award-worthy performance in and of itself.

Like its predecessor “All The President’s Men”, “Spotlight” is a paen to the courage of journalists who feel compelled to tell a story full of ugliness that few want to see.

[As a postscript I would have also liked to see the voice of a young victim in flashback, and the toll incurred on him as a young adult when he finally comes forth to tell his story. The victims all had unhealed wounds, based on secrets and lies they had to endure for decades.]

“Foxcatcher”—Let This One Go

'Foxcatcher" the movie
‘Foxcatcher” the movie

“Foxcatcher” is director Bennett Miller’s explorations into the dark side of sports. Based on true events, “Foxcatcher” retells the dark and tragic story of the megalomaniac multimillionaire, John E. (“Eagle”) du Pont (played by the unrecognizable Steve Carrell). A failed wrestler himself, du Pont lavishes a fraction of his fortune onto the Schultz brothers whom he hopes will win the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Most of the scenes are shot near du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate in rural Pennsylvania.

Flattered by du Pont’s attention and financial support, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) gradually views his benefactor as a father figure, becoming increasingly dependent on du Pont for approval and for his own sense of self-worth. We do not quite know Mark’s intellectual capabilities, an omission that prevents our understanding of his character. Tatum occasionally acts as if his character as a below-average IQ who is not only an emotionally vulnerable young athlete but unable to grasp the threatening situation he is in.

Stephen Carrell and Channing Tatum
Stephen Carrell and Channing Tatum

Some things money can’t buy. Only the older brother, Dave Schultz (a superbly underplayed performance by Mark Ruffalo) realizes the critical balance between competition and personal values and yet he too succumbs to the duPont mystique, partly for the sake of supporting his younger brother. DuPont himself, however, is not simply a philanthropist interested in patriotism and the gold-medal He was also a damaged, unlikeable and unstable person. Hints are revealed that du Pont’s relationship with his mother (a subdued performance by Vanessa Redgrave) is toxic, and that his every action is a reaction to her. From his own dysfunctional family experience, du Pont is bewildered by and incapable of understanding Dave’s devotion to his family and independence from du Pont’s financial control.

While the narrative is a tale of fury and tragedy, Carrell imbues DuPont with a personality so distant, emotionally remote, and obsessive-compulsive that we do not intuit his backstory in depth, at least not sufficiently to understand his need to compensate for a lack of love (blame it on the mother!) The camera slowly pans over acreage demonstrating great wealth and focusing on weapons and trophies, but the silent storm of du Pont’s psyche is not revealed in a dramatic enough way to justify the slow pace and the gaps in the psychological landscape. “Foxcatcher” could have been a high-quality film but let this one go.