I warn you now: spoilers will abound in this particular Discuss post, because spoilers are precisely what I want to talk about today. Before you read any further, just know that we'll be talking specifically about a twist that happens late in the game in the Hughes' brothers' post-apocalyptic sci-fi Western, The Book of Eli – so proceed with caution only if you've already seen it, already know the twist, or don't care if the surprise is spoiled for you.
Remember, SPOILERS ahead!
Seriously, I mean it!
Ok, here we go.
(Hit the jump to dive into the discussion.)
If you were among the millions of ticket buyers who watched Denzel rain some righteous wrath upon the unwashed, non-believing, people-eating thugs of the future last weekend in the Christian action flick The Book of Eli, you probably have your own take on the last-scene revelation that occurs right before the end credits. In the scene, we see that the villainous sheriff, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) has finally gotten his hands on the Book (AKA The Bible) only to discover that it is written in Braille (coincidentally, it plays a lot like this scene from The Fifth Element).
Simultaneously, a close-up shot on Denzel's face reveals that the lenses of his eyes are clouded with what look like cataracts, implying that he either once was, or still is, blind. And therein lies the big revelation: was Denzel blind the entire time?? (Or, to paraphrase a classic Austin Powers moment, did he happen to see...anything at all?)
These days, contemporary audiences are almost conditioned to expect a last-minute twist, a crucial bit of knowledge that was there all along that leads us to think back again on all that we've seen. He's INSIDE the bank! She's really a HE! It was all a DREAM! The twist in The Book of Eli is a fun one; we already suspect that he's being magically protected from harm by The Man Upstairs, since he comes out of (most) every confrontation with nary a scratch on his body. But to look back and realize that he's a super swordsman/archer/cat killer because his other senses are heightened, possibly to compensate for a lack of sight? Well, that makes Eli a much cooler hero, but it also makes the film more of a head-scratcher than most of us had anticipated.
What's been interesting, then, is to see the range of divergent reactions and readings of this twist. Kudos to the Hughes brothers for leaving it mostly ambiguous, because, I'll admit it, I never expected to be giving this movie a second thought. (And that's not even taking the heavy religious themes into consideration, which is an entirely different discussion.) Audiences and bloggers alike seem to read Eli's blindness in a variety of different ways, and no argument I've seen so far can seem to definitively say for sure what Eli's condition was/is. The prevailing theories:
1. He was blind all along.
Some think that Eli was blind the whole time, even before the nuclear apocalypse destroyed the world. This explains his Zatoichi-like blind swordsman skills – he's had thirty years to fine-tune his other senses to a point where, perhaps, he can target birds and Mr. Bigglesworths and the genitals of bad guys with his aural senses alone. (As one commenter on another site also points out, this may explain why it's taken Eli thirty years to get to San Francisco, which does sound a tad silly. Just follow the smell of hemp and the sound of small animals running from Malcolm McDowell's hair!)
Another clue to support this theory: Washington himself noted in an on-set interview that he prepared for his character by researching the life of Ben Underwood, a young man who was born without sight in either eye who learned to "see" his surroundings using a form of echolocation.
2. He was sighted but could read Braille.
A less popular idea is that Eli could always see, but somehow knows how to read Braille. Maybe when God first spoke to him and led him to the Bible, he discovered it was in Braille and spent a few years/decades learning how to read it. (This, admittedly, is the lamest explanation of the bunch.)
3. He was already going blind/partially blind, so he picked up Braille and super skillz along the way.
If we take his namesake from the O.G. Bible as guidance, Eli is in the process of going blind. (In various religious iterations Eli was a priest, a prophet, and the mentor to the prophet Samuel – who could be, translated into Book of Eli terms, Mila Kunis's hot young lady, Solara. By the time of his death, Eli had gone blind.) Maybe Denzel's Eli had been slowly going blind either before the apocalypse, been blinded during the apocalyptic event, or lost his sight in the ensuing three decades (he does mention that the Big Blast blinded some folks). Somewhere along the way, he sharpened his other senses to make up for his deteriorating sight.
4. He was blind before the apocalypse, but now he can see.
This is my favorite take on The Book of Eli: He was blind before the apocalypse, but when the bombs hit and God set him on his path with the Bible, God also gave him back his sight. You know, "Amazing Grace" and all – "I once was blind, but now I see." Eli's faith seems to stem from the fateful day when God spoke to him, which gave him "sight," literally and spiritually. So while his eyes still appear cloudy, he is able to see – and that, coupled with the super-powered senses he had from being blind, gives Eli his supernatural killing powers.
What do you think, folks? Could Denzel see at all, or did he just have some awesome Zatoichi-Daredevil super senses? How else could he have known that Dumbledore had graves in his backyard? Or that Martha's hands were shaking? (The rattle of her tea cup, perhaps?) Or that the dead dude in the beginning wore his shoe size? Will we have to watch it again to figure it out? I'm not saying any of these is even the right answer, but I'd love to hear what you thought on your first (or second) viewing.