“A stale piece of bread is better than nothing.”
LAND OF THE BLIND is a 2006 film directed by Robert Edwards, and written by Edwards five years before. Its message about political corruption and complacency is so resonant that, even though it takes cues from historical figures throughout the centuries, we can still see our current climate reflected in it .
The film starts “Five Years Before” during the reign of President-For-Life Maximilian II (Tom Hollander). Having inherited the position from his father, Maximilian is equal parts politically clueless and personally gluttonous. He doesn’t understand why his constituents aren’t grateful when he commutes those sentenced to the gallows…by sending them to firing squads instead. Unable to stand any critique of himself, he murders his opponents when he can get away with it and sends them to the not-so-secret prisons when he can’t.
One of these prisoners is the de facto leader of the resistance, playwright turned political prisoner Thorne (Donald Sutherland). He’s been imprisoned for years for the crime of being critical of Maximilian. Despite having nearly all communication with the outside world cut off, his followers “The Citizens for Justice and Democracy” continue the movement he inspired. While they wage wars against the administration outside, Thorne is left to write his manifesto on the walls of his cell using any means available.
One of the guards assigned to him, Joe (Ralph Fiennes), serves as our everyman narrator. In the beginning he doesn’t consider himself political, just a man doing his job. The more he has conversations with Thorne, however, the more he sees the corruption in Maximiliam’s regime and becomes determined to help achieve change. From his cell Thorne runs for–and is elected to–parliament and is thus released to serve his term. Now that their leader is accessible the Citizens for Justice and Democracy spring into action.
Quickly Joe helps Thorne and his followers get into Maximilian’s castle. Within minutes Thorne puts Maximilian and his wife through a two minute trial in their bedroom, convicts, and executes them. The Maximilian II regime is over.
“Nothing is better than a big, juicy steak.”
With Thorne in the position of President-For-Life, change definitely happens. Maximilian’s indulgences are replaced with a strict moral code. All females are now forced to wear hijabs when outside the house. Re-education camps are opened to make sure everyone is in line with the nation’s moral code. This includes teachers, doctors, people who insist on wearing glasses, and anyone else not in line with the new morality. Children are separated from their parents in order to “fight the narcissism of family.” The revolution has occurred. Long live the revolution.
Joe is retired from the military and held up as a hero for his part in the revolution. He isn’t as thrilled with Thorne’s changes. When pressured to sign a loyalty oath, Joe refuses out of principle. He points out to Thorne that “before the revolution man exploited man. Since the revolution it’s the other way around.” That is enough to get Joe sent to the re-education camps.
What happens in the camps would be unfathomable if I didn’t know how much of this movie was based on historical events. There is physical torture, psychological torture, relentless pressure to accept anything and everything he’s told to believe. Can Joe survive with himself intact and is it worth it if he does?
“Therefore, a stale piece of bread is better than a big, juicy steak.”
LAND OF THE BLIND is not a movie for everyone. There are a lot of questions left unanswered. We don’t learn the characters’ histories. In the end there is no comfortable resolution. The movie will be fascinating for those who know history; they’ll be able to recognize the patterns that have happened and even recognize some that are still going on. Even those who can’t see when Idi Amin or the Khmer Rouge are referenced can still appreciate the movie on its own. The actors are all well cast in their roles and their journeys are completely believable. The music, composed by Guy Farley, is appropriately unsettling and comes in at just the right moments to keep the viewer on edge. Robert Edwards is a master at balancing actual history with a compelling story. I like to watch this movie whenever I find myself getting politically complacent. It’s a reminder that it’s not enough to stand against something; you have to also know what you’re standing for.
LAND OF THE BLIND is available on DVD and to rent/buy for streaming on Amazon.