Religious films come and go in different forms. Most of them fall on the side of pure propaganda, trying to pass their belief systems as a perfect set of laws.
Thankfully, The Book of Eli (2010) and its mysterious main character make for a different kind of religious film. Among the questions that the film raises, the one regarding Eli’s sight is the one that is asked the most often. Is Eli really blind? And, if so, why does he wear sunglasses?
Eli is indeed blind and wears sunglasses just to hide it. It is one of the major revelations towards the end of the film. It is a controversial twist because we see Eli doing things no blind man could do, and yet, the explanation of how Eli can do all of these things while blind makes perfect sense within the movie.
The following interpretation of the film will contain spoilers for the rest of the movie, so go watch it first if you haven’t, then come back and be part of the discussion.
Is Eli Blind in The Book of Eli?
The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic film written by Gary Whitta and directed by the Hughes Brothers. The film is very interesting as it has a very strong B-Movie vibe, and yet, it has a spectacular cast of actors.
Among them, we can find actors like Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Ray Stevenson, and, of course, the main character, Eli, coming alive thanks to the performance of the always great Denzel Washington.
The film has striking visuals and tells the story of a world that has been transformed into a wasteland, where humanity and civilization have devolved into a sort of dark age. Everybody is on their own trying to survive, and order only prevails thanks to a few warlords that have seized control of certain regions.
Eli is on a mission from God to deliver the last copy of the Bible to an unknown location in the west of the United States. After many adventures, Eli loses his copy of the bible to the film’s villain, Carnegie, only for Carnegie to find out that Eli’s copy of the bible is written in braille. As a result, he is unable to read it or use it as the weapon he wanted.
Meanwhile, Eli reaches the location, and it is confirmed that not only is he blind, but he has memorized the whole book and recites it to a scholar, so that a new copy can be made.
The film is very particular because, among the elements of faith, religion, and morals, the film also works as an action movie. Eli does some incredible things, like fighting and killing groups of people with ease and having the ability to sense things others can’t.
For some people, this twist breaks the movie’s suspension of disbelief. Eli is blind, and he just wears sunglasses to pass as being like everybody else in this world, where the sun cooks the earth relentlessly.
However, if he’s blind, then how can he be such a good fighter?
How Can Eli Do All the Things He Does If He Is Blind?
God exists within the film’s universe.
God has entrusted the delivery of the Bible to Eli, and the man has committed completely, body and soul, to the completion of this mission. Eli being a blind man only exalts him as a man that has come across something divine.
Many mythologies and religions use the figure of a blind man as a sort of metaphor. One where blindness isn’t seen as a disability, but as proof that this individual has left behind the superficiality of the material world and has managed to become something else.
With God being real in this world and with Eli being on a mission for him, there are two possibilities for how Eli can do what he does even if he is blind.
First, and the one that the movie hints at the most, is that Eli is being protected and guided by God himself. Every time Eli comes across a dangerous situation, he is guided by God’s own hand and protected by it. Eli fights with a skill that can only be described as superhuman. In many scenes in the film, bullets and other dangers simply miss him.
Towards the end of the film, Eli even manages to survive what could only be a lethal on-the-spot wound. Eli is the ultimate monk, the ultimate prophet, committed completely to the mission, and God is literally working through him.
The other possibility is that Eli himself had these abilities way before God revealed himself to him, and that God is just using Eli’s abilities to accomplish the mission.
It is hinted that the war that destroyed the world was devastating and brutal. Eli could have been a soldier in that war and survived it. He must have been one of the best of the best. It is also hinted that the war was religious in nature, thus making Eli the last soldier of God in a war he lost.
All of these are just possibilities that make the film more interesting. At the end of the day, the film does not give a proper and definitive answer. Which means audiences around the world can come up with their own interpretations depending on how they feel about these very big topics that define our lives inside and outside the movies.