A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant white blindness.
A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hoarding the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is, however, one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble.
A doctor's wife becomes the only person with the ability to see in a town where everyone is struck with a mysterious case of sudden blindness. She feigns illness in order to take care of her husband as her surrounding community breaks down into chaos and disorder.
When a big city has a mysterious outbreak of blindness, the victims are quarantined by the government in a hospital without any medical care, treatment or hygiene. Among the first people affected by the so called "white blindness" are an ophthalmologist and his reluctant healthy wife who has not lost her sight but stays with him to help him in the difficult moment. The place immediately crowds and a group of criminals takes the power, demanding jewels and electronics first and sex later for the limited ratio of food they control.
- The story of Blindness begins on a morning in an unnamed city during rush-hour traffic. As the traffic lights change, a young Japanese professional (Yusuke Iseya) is suddenly struck blind for no apparent reason and blocks all the traffic behind his car. With the honking horns of the other frustrated drivers causing a commotion, the Japanese man is approached by a few concerned people, one of whom (Don McKellar) offers to drive him home. As they proceed to drive away, the blinded man describes his sudden affliction: an expanse of dazzling white, as though he is "swimming in milk." Eventually they arrive at the Japanese man's upscale apartment, but as soon as he assures his rescuer that he'll be fine waiting there for his wife to come home, the "rescuer" departs with the car keys and steals the vehicle.
Upon arriving home later that evening and noticing her husband's blindness, the Japanese man's wife (Yoshino Kimura) takes him to a local ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) who, after testing the man's eyes, can identify nothing wrong with his sight and recommends further evaluation at a hospital. Among the doctor's patients are an old man with a black eye-patch (Danny Glover), a woman with dark glasses (Alice Braga), and a young boy (Mitchell Nye). Later that same evening, the car thief is also struck blind, abandoning the Japanese man's car as he runs down the street.
During a dinner with his loving wife (Julianne Moore), the doctor discusses the strange case of sudden blindness that hit the Japanese man. Elsewhere in the city, the woman with dark glasses - revealed to be a call-girl - becomes the third victim of the strange blindness after an appointment with a john in a luxury hotel. The next day, the doctor wakes up to realize that he too has gone blind, which panics him all the more since he may have infected his wife in turn, but she refuses his attempts to keep her at arm's length and promises she will be safe. In various locations around the city, several more citizens are struck blind, causing widespread panic, and the government organizes a quarantine for the blind in a local derelict asylum. When a Hazmat crew arrives to pick up the doctor, his wife climbs into the van with him, lying she has also gone blind in order to accompany him into isolation.
In the asylum, the doctor and his wife are first to arrive and both agree they will keep her sight a secret. Several others arrive: the woman with dark glasses, the Japanese couple, the car thief, and the young boy. At first a fight breaks out between the Japanese man and the man who stole his car, but the doctor pulls them apart and effectively assumes leadership of the ward. The Japanese man is then reunited with his wife, who becomes all but catatonic as a result of her sudden disability. Then the doctor's wife - who continues to remain sighted - comes across the old man with the eye-patch, who describes the condition of the world outside. The sudden blindness, known only as the "White Sickness", is now international, with hundreds of cases being reported every day. Desperate by this point, the totalitarian government resorts to increasingly ruthless measures to try to staunch the epidemic.
In due course, as more and more blind people are crammed into the fetid prison, overcrowding and total lack of any outside support causes the hygiene and living conditions to degrade horrifically in a short time. Soon, the walls and floors are caked in filth and human feces. Anxiety over the availability of food, caused by irregular deliveries, undermine the morale inside. The lack of organization prevents the blind internees from fairly distributing food among each other. The soldiers who guard the asylum become increasingly hostile. The government refuses to allow in basic medicines, so that a simple infection becomes deadly. During one load of new inmates, a man wanders too far away from the group and is killed by the soldiers, along with two other people caught in the crossfire. A shovel is callously tossed over the wall for the corpses to be buried by the blind.
Living conditions degenerate even further when an armed clique of men, led by an ex-barman who declares himself the King of Ward 3 (Gael García Bernal), gains control over the sparse deliveries of food. The rations are distributed only in exchange for valuables, solely as a humiliation. With the prospect of starvation and the hopelessness of being unable to take care of himself, the doctor turns to the woman with dark glasses in a moment of true weakness, and they have sex. Both regret it afterward and even more so once they hear the doctor's wife speak knowing they were not alone and that she had witnessed most of their tryst. Although the doctor's wife does not really trust her husband again, she still remains to help and in the end she forgives both the woman and her husband. The next day, the King of Ward 3 demands women in exchange for food. One by one, the desperate women volunteer to be sex slaves for the men in ward 3, and the King of Ward 3 rapes the doctor's wife. When the women get back, one of them has been brutally beaten to death by her rapist. Faced with starvation and hell-bent on revenge, the doctor's wife snaps and murders the King of Ward 3 with her scissors. His death initiates a chaotic war between the wards, which culminates with the asylum being burned down. Most of the inmates die in the fire. Only then do the few survivors discover that the military has abandoned their posts. They are free to venture into the city.
But all is squalor and chaos. The entire population is blind amid a city devastated and infested with vermin and overrun with filth and dead bodies. The doctor's wife leads her husband, the Japanese couple, the old man, the woman with dark glasses and the young boy through the ruined streets in search of food and clean clothes. Everywhere she looks is grim as people squat in derelict buildings and society as she knew it no longer exists. Leaving her friends in the relative safety of an old cafe, she and her husband go to look for food. In a supermarket filled with stumbling blind people, she finds a storeroom stocked with food and packs it into bags. As she prepares to leave and meet her husband outside, she is attacked by the starving people who smell the food she is carrying. Her husband, now used to his blindness, saves her and they manage to return to their friends.
The doctor and his wife with their new "family" eventually make their way back to the house of the doctor, where they establish a permanent home. The doctor's wife has truly forgiven her husband for sleeping with the woman with dark glasses, and in turn makes love to him where he states that when they are together like this, he can really "see" her through his touch. Just as the "family" are becoming accustomed to their new way of life, the Japanese man recovers his sight one morning. This gives the other people hope that their blindness will lift as quickly and inexplicably as it came. As the friends all celebrate, the doctor's wife stands out on the porch, staring up into a white overcast sky and for a moment thinks to herself "I'm going blind", until the video camera shifts downwards, revealing the cityscape before her.