There are hundreds of classic films which could not now be remade because of the existence of the mobile phone. The plot of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, for example, hinged on the making of a landline call to a phone in a particular room at a particular time in the evening. If she'd had a mobile, Grace Kelly wouldn't have had to go to the kitchen to answer the phone, there would have been no murder attempt and hence no film. The absurdity of ignoring this was illustrated by the remake of that movie, A Perfect Murder, 10 years ago. We were asked to believe that the Gwyneth Paltrow character, living in the lap of Fifth Avenue luxury, had to get out of her marble bath and walk half a mile to the other side of the apartment to keep her particular appointment with fate. That small implausibility showed the whole story up as a fraud.
This kept running through my mind as I watched Blindness, the new screen adaptation of the novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago about a mysterious epidemic of "white blindness" that descends out of nowhere on to an unidentified, racially diverse but obviously Western city. The particular group of victims on which the story centres is quarantined by an apparently authoritarian regime in what looks like a disused asylum; yet as they fall over chairs and form motley conga-lines in the search for food, it doesn't seem to occur to any of them that they might pick up the phones they would surely have owned to find out what was happening on the outside. In a film set in the here and now, this seems a very odd, not to say convenient, omission. And before it is pointed out to me in angry emails that, well, these people wouldn't actually be able to see anyway, I'd say that the key-panel of your average mobile is actually very close to Braille, and with a tiny bit of practice could easily be mastered.
It will be obvious from this that my mind had time to wander throughout the two hours. It's a bad sign in the cinema when you start listing irritating implausibilities; and one imagines that it's the last thing the director, Fernando Meirelles, expected for this new film, with its grainy, bleached-out art-house pretensions - his follow-up to The Constant Gardener. I suspect that he thought his film and its audience would be above such petty nit-picking. Blindness is, after all, meant to deal with big themes, such as the sudden disintegration of civilisation when we find ourselves rendered powerless. The novel, which I haven't read, was widely praised for the way in which it dealt with the descent into a kind of savagery by otherwise ordinary urban dwellers, who then belatedly discover their shared humanity. Unfortunately, the inertness, worthiness and sheer grimness of this adaptation expose the fault-lines that eventually cause the whole thing to appear rather silly.