Depth Wish Three: Eyepatch of Justice

Ruminations on cyclopean cinema

Now that an eye inflammation is playing havoc with my depth perception I’m starting to question some of the amazing feats performed by various one-eyed movie characters. You see lots and lots of one-eyed characters in action movies presumably because the eye patch makes such an awesome fashion accessory. Sure an eye patch looks wicked cool and makes one hell of an icebreaker at parties but it’s crap for determining distance and knowing when you’re about to run straight into something.

• Case #1: Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) from Escape from New York (1981) — Now this guy is badass. Snake took a traditional pirate accessory and transformed it into a symbol of post-apocalyptic toughness almost single-handedly. Pretty much every cinematic anti-hero who donned an eye patch after 1981 secretly wanted to be Snake on some level.

You’d think that piloting a glider into Manhattan and landing it on the World Trade Center would require depth perception but Snake’s aircraft is outfitted with the latest in Tandy TRS-80 computer technology rendering the terrain in nice 2-D vector graphics while keeping constant tabs on little things like altitude and skyscraper proximity.

All right we’ll give him that one but does Snake ever do anything that would be virtually impossible without two functioning eyes? Well in the sequel Escape from L.A. (1996) he tosses a basketball across a full court one-handed and sinks it. Bad guys are going to kill him if he misses so the stakes are pretty high; maybe he tried extra hard or maybe he’s just lucky. Still any doubts about the plausibility of this impressive feat have to contend with the fact that Russell actually made that shot — and while wearing an eyepatch to boot. He really is that cool.

Of course Russell had one advantage over his fictional alter ego in that if he missed he could just film another take.

• Case #2: Franky (Angelina Jolie) from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) — Jolie’s pouty-lipped naval wing commander is another example of a vision-impaired pilot and her specific job raises all kinds of questions. OK she’s a hard-as-nails aviatrix with nerves of steel and the finest retro-futuristic naval technology available; we get that. What we don’t get is why you’d entrust leadership of a submersible airplane squadron to a pilot with one eye. There’s a real fine line between “flying in tight formation” and “chewing your wingman’s tail fins off with your propeller” and depth perception is kinda useful in making that distinction. The same problem comes up when you try landing your aircraft; how many lucky flukes can you have before finally plowing straight into your aircraft carrier? Plus if you are the squadron leader everybody else follows you precisely which will just make the hole deeper.

Complicating the issue is the fact that Franky’s squadron uses planes that can go underwater. On the one hand depth perception would seem to be absolutely vital here since determining how close you are to that big blue thing called the ocean would presumably be rather important. On the other hand misjudging how close you are to the water in a submersible aircraft is less catastrophic than misjudging your distance from the cold hard ground. What’s the worst that could happen? “OK squad follow my lead. Prepare to make contact with the water in nine eigh…” SPLAAAAAASSSSH!!! “Uh never mind.”

• Case #3: Daniel “Big Dan” Teague (John Goodman) from O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) — At one point in this freewheeling semi-musical a confederate flagpole is hurled into the midst of a Ku Klux Klan rally. “Don’t let that flag touch the ground!” shouts a Klansman. Goodman’s one-eyed character braces himself and at the last second catches the pole (one-handed!) just before it reaches his face thus saving himself from being struck in his only remaining eye. His victory is short-lived as the good guys use the opportunity to drop a burning cross on him.

That’s one heck of a catch for somebody who has to guess when to make the grab. On the other hand since this is a loose adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey making Goodman’s character an analogue of the Cyclops we could explain it away as a superhuman feat made by a creature of myth.

• Case #4: Phil Ken Sebben (Stephen Colbert) from Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law (2001-07) — On the opposite end of the “cool” spectrum from Snake Plissken we have the eye patch-wearing president of a law firm populated by washed-up superheroes from the ’60s. Sebben’s complete lack of visual accuracy is a running gag in the series and the guy seems like he sees everything three feet to the left. After directing Birdman to take a seat he’ll point in completely random directions shouting “Not there! There!” while the cowed attorney perches on a potted plant giving a weak nervous chuckle. When conversing he’ll often lean sharply to the side as though addressing some invisible phantom. If anyone moves over to meet his gaze Sebben will lean over even farther to the point of falling out of his chair. Using keys is an almost insurmountable obstacle for Sebben. You can tell he’s trying to unlock the door to his office if you overhear him saying “OK… All right… Here we go… Aaaand opening. On one. Next time. Spatial relationships. Okey-doke! Come to papa! Male end female end.…”

• Case #5: Goku from Goku Midnight Eye (1989) — This Japanese cartoon is about a private investigator who survives an assassination attempt only to awaken and find that one of his eyes has been replaced with a supercomputer. Now he gains instant knowledge about everything and everyone from a global information network and can bend any computerized device to his will. What we have here is a partial-blindness scenario transformed into an adolescent power fantasy. “I sure wish my eye was a supercomputer! Whee-oo!”

Plus he’s been given an unbeatable weapon in the form of a magic extendable pole. Handy! So what technologically advanced benefactor outfitted Goku with this cool stuff? We don’t know. Someone was just bored I guess.

Is this really the best use of superior computer technology? After all our technology is superior to that of chimpanzees but you don’t see us surgically implanting an iPhone into a chimp’s brain and giving it an Uzi just to see what he’ll do with it.

On second thought that sounds awesome. I propose that we carry out this experiment immediately. If you would like to support the iPhone/Chimp-with-an-Uzi project please send grant money to me care of this publication.