Six Damn Fine Degrees #94: The Great Orson Welles Hoax

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Hollywood. The Dream Factory. And what is a dream but a story that never happened? (Or, if you believe in the MCU, things that happen in alternate universes – which means that these alternate universes have a hell of a lot of lectures and speeches made, and lessons taught, by people who suddenly find that they’re actually naked.)

One of the greatest such ‘dreams’ brought forth by Hollywood – or, to be more frank and forthright, one of its greatest lies – is that of Orson Welles: director, actor, writer, and, if we are to believe IMDB, also Editor, Costume Designer, Script and Continuity Department, and (ironically) Self. In short, a Hollywood wunderkind supreme.

How ironic, then, that Orson Welles… play the ominous dun-dun! sound… never actually existed.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel blind

Cinema loves end-of-the-world tales – but then, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t get a big dose of endorphins out of watching zombie hordes ravaging mankind, asteroids punching holes through our planet, or killer chickens devouring us in revenge for kazillions of McNuggets? (Apparently we taste especially good with secret sauce.)

Obviously there’s a certain potency in telling stories of the end of the world that’s difficult to come by when what’s at stake is much smaller. End of your village? Your high school? Your local Tesco’s? Doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the potential end of everyone you ever loved, hated, sat next to in maths classes, bought frozen peas from.

The main problem with Fernando Mereilles’ Blindness is that it doesn’t just want to tell a story about an almost-apocalypse. It wants to have meaning beyond that generated by its story and the plight of its characters. It wants to be symbolic, too, and literary, which isn’t surprising as the film is based on a novel by Portuguese Nobel Laureate José Saramago. Unfortunately the story doesn’t carry the weight of some deeper, symbolic meaning. As a tale of a Very Special Apocalypse it works well enough, in a depressing Lars von Triery way, but it fails to live up to its own ambitions to such an extent, it risks turning the audience against itself. I’m always willing to feel empathy for fictional characters, like the bleeding heart liberal literature lover that I am, but I found myself getting annoyed with the way the film managed to escalate the sheer horridness of its scenario over and over again, mistaking misery for depth.

It’s a shame, because there’s so much skill in almost every facet of the film. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is largely impecable, the editing works. Yet the flawed apocalypse extravaganza that is Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later finally works better as a film, mainly because it tries to be less and succeeds to be more. Mereilles’ film, undoubtedly the more ambitious of the two movies, fails to live up to what it so obviously tries to be, it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a noble failure, the emphasis being on the latter.

P.S.: Having said that, I’m greatly looking forward to the director’s future work. After City of God and The Constant Gardener, Mereilles would have to turn out the equivalent of Lady in the Water or The Village for me to start thinking that the previous displays of his talent were mere flukes. Even one of his failures is vastly more interesting viewing than a successful Brett Ratner flick.

P.P.S.: Blindness was adapted for the screen by Canadian author/director/actor Don McKellar (who also has a small part in the film). For people looking for an interesting end-of-the-world film that succeeds better, perhaps for trying less hard, check out his Last Night, the sort of apocalypse movie that only the Canadians could pull off.