WARNING: CAPTAIN MARVEL SPOILERS AHEAD!
For months prior to Captain Marvel's March 8 release date, discussion boards, blog posts and social media were rife with speculation from Marvel fans curious about the role the movie would play in the broader narrative established by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chief among the subjects of speculation was the fan theory that Marvel would finally reveal how Nick Fury—former Colonel, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and enduring bada**—lost his left eye.
The WhatCulture article “Captain Marvel: How Does Nick Fury Lose His Eye?” captures the eye patch's significance to the beloved character: “Ever since he walked into the MCU in the post-credits scene of Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury has been an eyepatch wearing badass. It's a hugely recognizable part of the character—his eye-conography, you might say but probably shouldn't—but just why does he wear it?”
In the universe established by the comic books, Fury is in proximity of a grenade blast during World War II, losing 95% of the vision in his left eye. In this version, he doesn't lose the eye completely but wears the eyepatch to prevent depth perception distortion. Being the master spy that he is, Fury uses this to his advantage; anyone looking for him would be expecting an eyepatch so he simply slips in a contact lens and evades detection.
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe Nick Fury isn't old enough to have fought in World War II and, despite the fact that he's been in or mentioned in 12 films, none have touched on the origin of his missing eye. Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided a clue when Fury tells Captain America, “The last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.”
In Captain Marvel, we finally have an answer. Throughout the entire film, Fury fawns over Captain Marvel's flerken-cat Goose gushing over how cute she is and even relying on her in a battle against the Kree. Until Goose decides she's tired of the attention and, in a characteristically feline move, attacks his eye which the stoic Fury dismisses, stating, “It's just a scratch.” But Goose the cat is also a flerken, an alien species with dangerous bacteria in his claws and that bacteria would be Fury's undoing.
“It's a brilliant way of answering the question: the Fury/Goose relationship is great throughout Captain Marvel, and after a lot of speculation as to what really happened, there's something very funny about the fact that it was just a cat (admittedly, an alien cat) that led to him losing his eye, and that's why he'll never talk about it,” the WhatCulture article concludes.
As unique and tough as Fury is, he's hardly the first prominent character in popular culture to rock an eyepatch and it's not difficult to understand the appeal to the writers creating these characters. A missing eye symbolizes otherness and vulnerability, but also an inherent toughness provided the character overcomes the challenges of having a single eye. Villains often boast a single eye, as do alien characters both villainous and heroic. Sometimes a missing eye calls attention to a character's prescience.
The latter is the case for Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Xander Harris who loses his eye in the eighteenth episode of the seventh and final season. Seconds before gouging out Xander's left eye, defrocked priest and serial killer Caleb tells him, “So, you're the one who sees everything? Let's see what we can do about that.” It's a major and demoralizing blow against the Scooby Gang—the informal name for the team of friends who support Buffy Summers in her campaign against evil—though one the character is only forced to grapple with for four episodes given that it occurs in the final season. Despite the seriousness of the loss, particularly against the single human member of the Scooby Gang with no superpowers or magical abilities, knowledge of Xander's lost eye does create plenty of comedic foreshadowing moments rewatching the series. It turns out Xander has a lot of quotes about eyes and seeing including:
- “Man, Buffy! My whole life just flashed before my eyes. I gotta' get me a life!”
- “No but it's different now. It's more a verbal non-verbal. He speaks volumes with his eyes.”
- “Nothing personal, but when a guy does that it just means his eyes are open.”
Xander does manage to joke about his loss, telling Willow he needs a parrot “to go with the eyepatch, to really complete the look.”
Nick Fury isn't the only character to lose an eye to a feline-related incident. Pushing Daisies' Lily Charles loses her eye while cleaning out her cat's litter box when a piece of litter hits her in the eye. It's an undeniably comedic way to lose something so vital even if the consequences—having to end her synchronized swimming career as one half of the Darling Mermaid Darlings—are undeniably tragic. The fashion consequences, however, are fabulous.
While many one-eyed characters rock the traditional black eyepatch, Lily Charles has a different jeweled, bedazzled or patterned eyepatch to complement each outfit. Actress Swoosie Kurtz discussed the character's eyepatch collection with Vanity Fair in a Q&A, stating: “I now have this collection of jeweled, dazzling eye patches. It's probably the first time that an eye patch has been used as an accessory. Many think about Lily as being emotionally myopic as well as physically, but she sees more with one eye than most people see with both. The eye patch is really a symbol. She doesn't miss a thing.”
Like Xander, Lily is not without her sense of humor—albeit dry—regarding her missing eye. When a gentleman caller with dubious intentions expresses romantic interest in her sister Vivian, Lily gripes, “Look at the way he drapes himself all over her. Makes me wanna stick a fork in my eye. I need a drink.”
Surliness is another common quality among one-eyed characters including Harry Potter's Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody who might just have the coolest fake eye in the history of cinema with a magical eye that rotates in a complete circle and is capable of seeing through anything including wood, invisibility cloaks and even the back of his own head. As an Auror with a lengthy history of fighting dark wizards it's no surprise that Alastor isn't exactly a soft and cuddly character.
In fact, author J.K. Rowling wanted to make a statement with her characters who endure magical illnesses and injuries. In Pottermore's “Illness and Disability” page, Rowling writes that she “pondered the issue of illness and disability very early in the creation of Harry's world.” She decided that “broadly speaking, wizards would have the power to correct or override ‘mundane' nature, but not ‘magical' nature.” Having irreparably damaged his eye in a wizard's battle, Alastor's damaged eye cannot be healed. But that fact in no way compromises the Auror's ability to do his very difficult job as confirmed by Rowling who concludes her meditation on illness by stating, “Mad-Eye Moody is the toughest Auror of them all, and a man who was very much more than his significant disabilities.”
In the case of Kill Bill's Elle Driver—codename California Mountain Snake—losing an eye wasn't so much a symbol of her strength or willingness to overcome obstacles as it was a result of her character-defining flaw: pride. Like protagonist Beatrix Kiddo, Elle is a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad sent to train with Pai Mei, a legendary master of the Bak Mei and Eagle's Claw styles of kung fu. Pai Mei was known for being cruel to his students during training, taking special delight in stamping out any defiance or pride. During a training session, Elle calls Pai Mei a “miserable, old fool” prompting Pai Mei to pluck out her right eye. In revenge, Elle poisons Pai Mei's fish heads, killing the legendary kung fu master.
Later, during a fight, Elle taunts Beatrix with the knowledge that she killed Pai Mei, and Beatrix plucks out Elle's left eye in revenge, rendering the assassin completely blind. Prior to the loss of her second eye which Elle may or may not have survived, she wore a pretty standard black eyepatch with one notable exception: Elle famously infiltrates the hospital where Beatrix is in a coma intending to poison her nemesis. When Elle enters the hospital she's wearing a white pantsuit and matching eyepatch. While at the hospital she changes into a white nurse's uniform complete with a white eyepatch with a red cross at the center. It's a strange, humorous accessory for a woman who is intent on killing someone but to a character like Elle, killing is a fairly mundane activity and it's important to look fashionable for all life's moments, violent and bloody or otherwise.
And, in some cases, a character with a single eye symbolizes a lack of humanity. The 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? was inspired by Homer's epic ancient poem Odyssey the main antagonist of which is a one-eyed giant Cyclops named Polyphemus. The obvious answer to Polyphemus is the character of Big Dan Teague, a one-eyed conman with a knack for theft, prevarication and violence. Where Rowling sees Alastor Moody's lost eye as a confirmation of his humanity and courage, Dan Teague's missing eye is a symbol of his inhumanity and cruelty and, fortunately, both interpretations work within the context of their worlds.
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Michael "Mike" Wazowski, Monsters, Inc.
"One-eyed" Willie, The Goonies
Kang & Kodos, The Simpsons
William Williams, The Powerpuff Girls
Steve "Patch" Johnson, Days of Our Lives
Lily Charles, Pushing Daisies
Commander Francesca "Franky" Cook, Sky Captain and World of Tomorrow
Ragetti, Pirates of the Caribbean
Colonel Saul Tigh, Battlestar Galactica
Mikhail Bakunin, Lost
Vernon Schillinger, Oz
Cyborg, Teen Titans Go!
The Governor, The Walking Dead
Nadine Hurley, Twin Peaks
Sapphire, Steven Universe
Snake Plissken, Escape from New York, Escape from L.A.
Big Dan Teague, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Rooster Cogburn, True Grit
Sheldon J. Plankton, SpongeBob SquarePants
Emilio Largo, Thunderball