(original title Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira
meaning "An Essay on Blindness") is a 1995 novel by Josť Saramago that was adapted into a film in 2008.
In an unnamed large city, an unexplainable and sudden outbreak of instant blindness is affecting people rapidly. In an attempt to prevent the epidemic from growing out of control, those suffering this are taken away and forced into a derelict mental asylum and held there until further notice. But the military guarding the place becomes increasingly hostile to the inmates, keeping them in at gunpoint. The government refuses to allow in basic medicines, so the hygiene and living conditions degrade horrifically within a short time.
The protagonist is the wife of an eye doctor who was among the first people to go blind. Because she is mysteriously immune to whatever is causing the blindness, she acts as a leader of her ward and tries to keep control over a situation which is rapidly deteriorating. Sadly for her, The situation, well, rapidly deteriorates
The book is followed by Seeing
(original title Ensaio Sobre a Lucidez
, "An Essay on Lucidity") which follows the aftermath of an election in the aforementioned nameless country where the majority of the now cured
population has cast blank ballots.
This work contains examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The film stays relatively true to the novel, only making a few small changes, such as aging the Girl with Dark Glasses to being a call-girl in her mid 20s instead of a teenager.
- Apocalypse How
- A World Half Full: With the white sickness causing catastrophic damage to society and ultimately destroying it completely, it's shown in the end that the blindness may only be temporary. There is some hope that life may someday get back on track.
- Aw Look They Really Do Love Eachother: The Japanese couple seem to be incredibly strained after they become blind, to the point of her rejecting him completely. But after a while they reconcile. The same goes for the Doctor and his wife, who is sickened and humiliated with how she cares for him now like he was a baby rather than her husband, but ultimately they prove to still care for each other.
- Blind Black Guy: The Man with the Eyepatch and the pharmacist's assistant in the film. (But then again, pretty much everyone is blind.)
- Body Horror: The Thief's infected wound growing until it is a disgusting septic mass on his entire leg.
- But Not Too Black: One of the blind men in Ward 1 says how he can tell the King of Ward 3 (a Mexican guy) is "a nigger" from the sound of his voice, completely unaware that he's talking to a black man.
- Break the Cutie: Pretty much everyone, but most of all the women who become violently gang-raped.
- City with No Name: The city which the story takes place in is never named. When being adapted to film, the author Josť Saramago insisted that they keep this in the movie as well. All of the characters are of various races, so the setting could be anywhere.
- In the book, it's hinted to be in Portugal.
- Cool Shades: The Girl with Dark Glasses, who wore them at first for medical reasons, but after she went blind it pretty much became Rule of Cool.
- Decoy Protagonist: When watching the film, it might appear at first the movie's main character would be the Japanese man, or the Doctor, but after a while it is made clear that the Doctor's Wife is the real main character of the story.
- Disability Super Power: By being an ordinary blind man prior to the outbreak, the Accountant is fully capable of functioning normally, and so he quickly gains the upper hand over everyone else in the facility.
- Emergency Presidential Address: There is a scene showing a public address from the governor, where she solemnly confesses that she too has gone blind.
- Fade to White
- From Nobody to Nightmare: The King of Ward 3 is seen, early on in the movie, as just a normal bartender who works at the luxury hotel and chats to the girl with dark glasses.
- Happy Rain
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The Girl with Dark Glasses is a high-class callgirl, but soon after she is put in the fetid asylum, she becomes a caring motherly figure to the orphaned young boy.
- Hope Spot: When the initial few people are sent into the mental facility and slowly grow into a close-knit society that functions relatively nicely, it almost seems like things might not be so bad anymore.
- I Did What I Had to Do: What the Doctor's Wife and the other women of Ward 1 say when their friends and husbands try to keep them from volunteering to be gang-raped by Ward 3, in exchange for food for everyone.
- The Immune: The doctor's wife.
- It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Putting video broadcasts in a quarantine area for the blind. The King of Ward 3 points out how stupid this is, so he smashes the monitors and sings a goofy Stevie Wonder song over the PA system.
- Light Is Not Good: White blindness.
- Magical Negro: The Man with the Eyepatch in the movie, who supplies Ward 1 with up-to-date news of life on the outside, thanks to his radio.
- Male Frontal Nudity: Because the asylum is a cramped, squalid, overcrowded building full of blind people, no one cares anymore if people walk around completely naked or not.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Accountant seems to have a small moment of this, but not enough to change his actions.
- Nameless Narrative: The movie seems to give the doctor and his wife names that are spoken in passing between each other, but for the most part in both the book and the movie, no one is given any real name. They're referred to only as "The Doctor" "The Doctor's Wife" "Man With The Black Eyepatch" etc.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: The King of Ward 3 is seen at first as just an obnoxious guido who questions authority. Once he manages to get a hold of a loaded pistol, he becomes much more dangerous.
- Obfuscating Disability: The Doctor's Wife pretends to be blind so as to not be separated from her husband. In a bizarre twist, the Accountant actually is blind since birth. As such, he is able to function normally and begins teaching the men of Ward 3 how to do such things as using a cane properly.
- Out with a Bang: The King of Ward 3 is stabbed to death in the middle of receiving a blow job.
- Parental Abandonment: The Boy gets separated from his parents when sent to the asylum.
- Parenting the Husband: Much to the doctor's annoyance and embarrassment.
- Primal Fear: The film just goes down the list with this trope.
- Rape as Drama: A truly gut-wrenching scene of it.
- Religious Horror: When they get outside of the facility, the group sees how churches are putting blindfolds over their Jesus statues and begin spouting prophecies of doom, proclaiming the outbreak of blindness to be an act of punishment from God.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Doctor's Wife becomes hell-bent on revenge when she is raped by the King of Ward 3.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: After the Ward 3 clique has taken all the valuable possessions the others have in exchange for food, the King of Ward 3 starts demanding all women of each ward to come have sex with his boys if they want to keep from starving. They do.
- Scavenger World: What the world is reduced to after the blindness outbreak got out of hand.
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The Thief's Jerk Ass attitude seem downright mild once he is overshadowed by the new menace that is the King of Ward 3.
- Spicy Latina: The Girl with Dark Glasses, who is Brazilian in the film.
- Team Mom: The Doctor's Wife becomes this for everyone in their ward, and ends up leading the True Companions once outside.
- The Fellowship Has Ended: When the group escapes the asylum, one bump on the ground causes members to get separated completely, without any of them realizing it as they wander away.
- Took A Level In Bad Ass: Because the Doctor's Wife is the only one who can see, she is pretty much obligated to take responsibility over her ward as well as the others, everything that this entails caused her to go from a sweet and normal housewife to a unstoppable force of nature in a pink sweater.
- True Companions: The Doctor's Wife, the Doctor, the Japanese couple, the Girl with Dark Glasses, the Man with the Eyepatch, and the Boy. They become bonded together like a family, though they don't really have much of choice.
- Your Cheating Heart: The Doctor has an affair with the Girl with Dark Glasses after he becomes oppressed and emasculated by no longer having any control over anything anymore. To make it all the more awkward? His wife walks in right in the middle of their sex. Since it's such a horrible and desperate situation they're in, she forgives her husband.