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BLINDNESS

The Thief And The King Of Ward Three
To play the man known as the Thief, who begins BLINDNESS as the Good Samaritan who gives the First Blind Man a ride home, the filmmakers turned to an unusual source: the film's screenwriter, Don McKellar, who also is an accomplished actor. "I didn't write the part of the Thief for myself," McKellar explains, "but I was always very interested in him. You first see the Thief as the good samaritan who gives the First Blind Man a ride home but later proves to take advantage of the situation when he steals his car. I like the trick that you think the Thief is the bad guy. He's a pathetic character you first believe is the villain of the piece and then you realize that, no he's not even close to that. There's something charming about his desperation because after a point, you meet the King of Ward Three and learn what real desperation is."

The King of Ward Three starts out known as the Bartender, his occupation in life before the "White Blindness” sets in. But inside the quarantined hospital, the Bartender appoints himself the royal dictator of Ward Three and then the rest of hospital, as he begins to control all of the meager resources provided by the government – namely food – by demanding jewelry, goods and ultimately women in trade.

The role went to one of today's most electrifying screen stars, Gael García Bernal, who came to the fore in Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's breakout films "Y tu mamá también" and "Amores Perros” and garnered acclaim and awards for his performance as a young Che Guevara in Walter Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries.”

Bernal had long been a fan of the novel. "I always thought it was a transcendent story,” he says. "It is about the inability of people to live together, about what happens when people don't really see each other. I like that it creates a situation that puts to the test all the social and moral structures we have been taught. The wards become chaotic and corrupt like the world. But in the end, it's a hopeful story because the only thing that can save us is ourselves.”

Bernal knew he would be taking on an extremely demanding part, a portrait of power's corruptions yet one that had to maintain its own sense of humanity, that had to be at once comical, savage and true. "I think the King is just very practical, very pragmatic. He appears cold because he is not an idealist and he does not see hope, but he is a survivor, the same as all the others,” observes Bernal. "To say the King is evil would be to go against the point of the story. He chooses practical solutions for the benefit of his ward. And what is so powerful about him is that his actions result in a very heated debate about morals."

The first man to go blind in BLINDNESS, Patient Zero as it were, becomes the arrow that drives the story forward. The audience follows in suspense as he suddenly loses his vision while waiting at a red light, flails through the now hostile world and as he tries to come to grips with what is happening to him and why. Accepting a ride home from a stranger (later to become the Thief), he soon passes the strange infection to his angry, disconsolate wife and starts off a chain reaction that will quickly grow out of control.

The First Blind Man and his Wife are perhaps the characters who changed the most in Don McKellar's adaptation of Saramago's novel. For one thing, McKellar added in a note of marital discord that gives the opening scenes an even greater emotional tension, and becomes another theme unto itself – for the blindness breaks open an invisible rift between the couple, who find themselves uncertain at first of what connects them at all without sight.

Secondly, although the ethnicity of the characters doesn't enter into the novel, McKellar and Fernando Meirelles made the decision early on to cast two actors of Asian background to add to the film's mix of cultur

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