Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in "Blindness", directed by Fernando Meirelles.  The film opens in the U.S. and Canada on Friday.  (Photo: Miramax Films)

In "Eagle Eye" And "Blindness" Sight, Seen And Unseen, Taps Into The Uneasiness Of The Future
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
September 29, 2008

Oh say can you see? 

Well, if you live in the U.S. or Canada you can see "Eagle Eye" right now and on Friday "Blindness" arrives in theaters.  From their titles eyes obviously figure in both films -- and are figurative.  Both films tap into deep anxieties about the present and future. 

In D.J. Caruso's "Eagle Eye", a hyperkinetic thrill ride that vacillates between science-fiction thriller and political action drama, the state, in the form of an omniscient supercomputer named Aria, is the enemy of the people.  A HAL-like entity from the days of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), Aria claims to act in the best interests of the U.S. government and the people it represents.  Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, "Eagle Eye" is a contemporary protege of "Minority Report", Mr. Spielberg's 2002 film about an American society watching one's every move, utilizing technology as a villain against the people.  Of course for both of these films George Orwell's novel 1984 is an inspiration -- a novel written more than fifty years ago depicting a Big Brother surveillance world, where people are taught to march in lockstep and obey authority at every turn, under peril of imprisonment -- or worse.

Shia LaBeouf, who plays Jerry Shaw in "Eagle Eye", is the perfect young rising star to play the aggrieved protagonist.  Putting aside his off-screen troubles, Mr. LaBeouf taps into the rebel streak within -- a rebirth of James Dean-Marlon Brando-early Tom Cruise cockiness and bravado -- to embody Jerry.  Living in Chicago, Jerry just wants to be left alone to play cards with his pals and live life.  Jerry has never amounted to anything in life, while his twin brother Ethan has accomplished a lot in a very short time.  Ethan's premature death is meant to show Jerry something about himself.  Curiously, for someone who's an identical twin, Jerry couldn't be more different from Ethan.  Identical twins, distant strangers.  And strangely enough, the world they inhabit isn't invited in to the calamity of the all-knowing, all-seeing society that envelopes them (unless it is readily assumed that everyone else has already bought into it -- and there's a scene in a subway suggesting just that.) 

"Eagle Eye" depicts an eye in Aria (she should have been renamed Iris) that sees too much and meddles rather than protects.  The film's devices and motivations are sometimes preposterous -- a lot of wild car chases and hair-raising events designed to capture the attention of Jerry and Rachel (played by "Mission: Impossible III" and "Gone Baby Gone" star Michelle Monaghan) -- but with no real rhyme, reason or pay off to satisfy the audience's curiosities.  On the other hand, when technology gets screwy, things don't have to make sense.  Haphazard and spontaneous change gives way to paranoia, and in "Eagle Eye" Jerry resists fear because adrenaline has taken over.  He lives for today and probably shields his eyes from a potentially dangerous tomorrow.  Rachel just wants to be able to see her son again and although engulfed by fear and incomprehension of a rapidly shifting world around her she will do everything as a mother to ensure her son's future.

Meanwhile, the future is unsteady and unfocused in "Blindness", directed by Fernando Meirelles.  In contrast to "Eagle Eye", where Chicago takes center stage as surveillance city U.S.A. (though there's a scene of an entire map of the U.S. under eavesdrop command), "Blindness" focuses on a pandemic of sightless beings.  Nowhere on the globe is there an escape and furthermore, there's apparently no cure for the inability to see.  The film, like the Noble Prize-winning novel by Jose Saramago on which it is based, is not set in any discernable, specific city -- it's happening in the town you live in -- which makes it difficult to place a time or time frame on it.  Jarring, powerful, unsettling and fable-like, "Blindness" taps into the fears that rapidly spread around a world which suddenly and without warning is infected by a plague that brings out the worst in the human condition, where only the Darwinist laws of the jungle are applicable.  ("This Fall, Everything Goes White", the film's website proclaims.)  "Blindness", which was an audience sensation at the Cannes Film Festival in May, highlights the human condition gone anarchic, as opposed to computers running amok.  The regulatory hand that is government in "Blindness" is itself brought to a standstill, crippled by the malaise inflicting so many of the world's citizens, causing infection rather than the corruption of its operation that occurs in "Eagle Eye".

Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan in "Eagle Eye", now playing in theaters in the U.S. and Canada.  D.J. Caruso's film was the number one film in its opening weekend at the box office in North America.  (Photo: Dreamworks/Paramount)

"Blindness" however, features an individual who may be as corrupt as the Aria computer is in "Eagle Eye".  A lone woman (Julianne Moore) who plays blind but can actually see but only when it serves her own selfish interests.  Her action or inaction may be a key to whether the planet ever gets to open its eyes again, metaphorically or otherwise.  Her presence is both silent and loud at the same time.  Mr. Meirelles taps into the fears of a society unable to handle crisis, a global stricture of citizens who turn on, rather than aid, each other.  Fear makes everyone run wild; lack of answers (i.e., the banking crisis) further propel panic and urgency.  Logic and reason are completely disabled.  "Blindness" treats an all-too real condition as some sort of terrorist attack of the heart -- as if a nerve gas has paralyzed the senses.  Mr. Saramago's novel is written so powerfully -- it feels like heartbeats pulsing within an anxious soul -- namely us.  We have no time to think or exhale when reading the riveting novel, only to contemplate the horror if we or the novel's principals do not act.  (Think the infamous warning of "a smoking gun that could become a mushroom cloud.")  Mr. Meirelles has a tougher task on the big screen when adapting from the book, but his visual framework is just as chilling.  When you have ophthalmologists (like the one played by Mark Ruffalo) not seeing, what hope is there for any of the rest of us?

Both "Eagle Eye" and "Blindness" reflect an age-old uncertainty about the future of society and anxieties about the specter of chaos and confusion, something so unnervingly depicted in "Lord Of The Flies" (1963), where young children governed, viciously.  With "Animal Farm" (1954) both as an Orwell novel and film the political order and hierarchical branches of government and its opponents are fused so as to be indistinguishable by comparison.  Order, as in 1984, becomes disorder.  Disorder becomes order -- and the order of the day at that.  [Interesting enough, the belief among some of the two major U.S. political parties (Democrats and Republicans) as being on the same side of a dishonest coin is the very thing that makes many Americans so thoroughly cynical about politics and the political process.]  Not so dissimilar in dimension are films like "Deliverance" (1972), where adults turn on each other.  "Blindness" raises that film's level of human corruption to another dimension, with attendant and shocking twists and results. 

With the uncertainties of the global economy and the tensions caused by an already weakened American economy and post-9/11/01 infrastructure that is as vulnerable as ever, especially with the vitally important U.S. presidential election just over a month away -- whispered rumors on the Internet that the election in November may not even take place owing to a possible attack on Iran by the U.S. or Israel, or due to a possible biological attack within America during or right after the election -- films like "Eagle Eye" and "Blindness" hit the gut hard, succeeding or failing not necessarily because they are great or not-so great films but because they operate upon a heightened global anxiety in the real world that surrounds them.  The films themselves aren't meant to be alarmist as much as they are warnings or reflections of the urgent and flickering embers of one last hope: humanity itself.

"Eagle Eye" is now playing in theaters in the U.S. and Canada; it was the number one film at the North American box office in its opening weekend.  "Blindness" opens on Friday in the U.S. and Canada.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  PopcornReel.com.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.
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