This film is poison.
And a poison in cinema is a very dangerous one at that. Its malevolence comes from cinema’s ability to make you forget that you exist. To completely immerse one in the fictional world it purports. This is where the danger lies, because one is so invested, it is so easy to lose oneself – to become sucked in to a story and characters and beauty and flow, only to sacrifice all critical distance. I was a victim to this myself in The Blind Side, leaving the theatre inspired and happy. It took a good half hour and a viewing of Shutter Island to remind me how uncomfortable The Blind Side’s first half made me.
The Blind Side’s poison is an obsolete moral system. I won’t delve into the more obvious corruptions The Blind Side possesses (that a good, Christian, white family can ‘adopt’ a black youth from the projects – as patronising and colonial as it sounds heart-warming and ridiculous). The film’s more worrying aspect comes from its focus on Christian morality.
The film is set in Memphis, Tennessee, and firmly in the social sphere of white bourgeois Americans whose matriarchs spend their free time organising charity balls and fundraisers. Yes, a good deed, but there’s something deeply repulsive and better-than-thou about that way of giving.
In The Blind Side, for instance, when a character performs a good deed, they are often commended by their supporting cast as ‘Good Christians’, as though ‘good’ is a quality that mere humans do not posses. I always consider things in terms of being a ‘good human’, or more cliché, a ‘good member of society’. Ironically, this, and the notion of a ‘Bad Christian’ fill up the film’s own blind side – present, yet ignored.
To complicate this, all characters who ‘adopt’ Michael Oher – be it the family, the football coach, the chosen University – benefit from it. The Christian focus on charity has always been on the giver over the receiver, and this selfishness is displayed in full abhorrence here, but, in Blind Side style, is firmly ignored, suppressed and disguised as simply being a ‘Good Christian’. Mrs. Tuohy gains a self-serving happiness from helping Michael; the coach gets a star football player; Mr. Tuohy pleases his wife by agreeing – there is no sacrifice here. Oscar Wilde outlined such concerns…
‘Christ was not merely the supreme individualist, but he was the first individualist in history. People have tried to make him out an ordinary philanthropist, or ranked him as an altruist with the scientific and sentimental. But he was really neither one nor the other. Pity he has, of course, for the poor, for those who are shut up in prisons, for the lowly, for the wretched; but he has far more pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists, for those who waste their freedom in becoming slaves to things, for those who wear soft raiment and live in kings’ houses. Riches and pleasure seemed to him to be really greater tragedies than poverty or sorrow. And as for altruism, who knew better than he that it is vocation not volition that determines us, and that one cannot gather grapes of thorns or figs from thistles?’
But then if we are to think of the other characters, it is almost impossible to do so. There is the father, the teacher, the coach, Big Mike, the little (annoying) brother – characters defined by their relationship to the story, not by character itself. To simplify this further, the film only ever provides one motive per character. There is no change or development and thus no satisfaction from the story. Likewise – there are no obstacles. Consequently, the film’s first half is almost without any pace or interest altogether.
For the poison works twofold. We have a moral infliction on one hand, a lowering of cinematic standards on the other. The Blind Side’s danger comes from convincing us that it has passion, originality and meaning – it has nothing of the sort! We, as spectators, are beaten into an idiotic putty and sculpted as they please.
But like I mentioned at the beginning, I too was drawn in. As soon as the film gathers a little tempo (through sports montage, a near impossible device to fail with), one starts to invest. We cheer for Michael as we root for the family and their anti-racist stance (but, make no mistake, it is nothing but an expensive mask covering indifference). Even S.J., the little brother, can somehow provoke a few chuckles.
However, this is The Blind Side’s great threat – that it can make one forget how awful and poisonous the film actually is. Maybe the smoke and mirrors approach accounts for Bullock’s Oscar win; her face largely inexpressive, never fully conveying any significant emotion.
This film is a cancer. It will infect both spectator and cinema itself. It devalues the art. Film is so much more than this, and as long as tripe like The Blind Side continues to be made, cinema will forever be shackled to its lowest points of mediocrity – Republican/Christian propaganda.