Since his audacious gangster film debut City of God made him an instant art house sensation in 2002, director Fernando Meirelles has tackled one heavy subject after another in what has felt like a desperate attempt to be taken seriously as an artist. In turn, Meirelles’s films have been defined by a troubling self-seriousness that has only gotten worse with time, including to some extent his mostly riveting drama The Constant Gardener. This strain of pretentiousness finally reaches critical mass in the director’s latest multi-character drama 360, a meandering “serious” mosaic that tries to make sense of the world’s many social ills by flooding the frame with pedantic assertions and overt symbolism about human nature.
Blindness might be the most difficult film to write about from 2008 because it’s maddening, disgusting, and fascinating all at the same time. Director Fernando Meirelles and his cast including Jullianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, and Alice Braga push these tortured characters and horrific scenarios to the edge. After an initial case of sudden blindness breaks out, the epidemic begins to spread and the government quarantines the stricken in downtrodden Hospital wards, including a group led by the Doctor (Ruffalo) and his Wife (Moore) who mysteriously can still see. The afflicted are left to fend for themselves, and the progression from civility to brutality to anarchy is difficult to watch. It’s reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, but Meirelles creates a strange visual pattern of light filtering through dark spaces that creates a unique mixture of panic and hypnosis, something that feels both pertinent and cinematic. There also seems to be an underlining dichotomy between traditional family dynamics and the sudden restructuring of such ideas in the face of disaster. In the end, like Moore’s character looking out at the silent horizon, we’re left speechless, yet still able to see something worthwhile underneath the terror of uncertainty. A devastating film, one that’s impossible to like but very palpable on a primitive level.