Javed Khan is a Pakistani teenager growing up in the 1980s in Luton, England. He has three goals in life: Make lots of money, kiss a girl and get out of this…town? He never actually says that word, but Javed’s dream is to become a writer—something he can’t easily do if he’s stuck in Luton.
When his dad is laid off and England’s economy starts sinking, Javed is expected to be a dutiful son by finding a job and contributing to the family’s basic needs. Javed’s dreams seem further away than ever. But a friend named Roops introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. And as The Boss would say it, “Talk about a dream, try to make it real.”
And trying to make it real is exactly what Javed does. Guided by Bruce’s stories of determination in the face of hard luck and broken dreams, Javed goes on a (sometimes mildly rebellious) journey of self-discovery. Springsteen’s hits inspire Javed’s writing, his way of thinking—even his wardrobe—even as the teen’s understanding of Springsteen’s lyrics grows ever deeper.
Though many of Bruce Springsteen’s songs are prominently featured here, Blinded by the Light tells Javed’s story. We see the power that music can have to inspire someone in a new way. We see how this music eventually teaches Javed some important life lessons, including a few he was too stubborn to see before.
Javed spends lots of time and energy trying to be a normal British teenager (to the disappointment of his proud Pakistani parents, especially his father). But eventually Javed learns that where you come from shapes who you are, and he realizes that the sacrifices his parents are asking him to make are nothing compared to the ones they have already made by emigrating to England.
Javed’s best friend, Matt, has been loyal to him since they were little kids, protecting Javed from bigotry and sympathizing with him when their dads get them down. Eliza, Javed’s girlfriend, is a bit of a political activist, always fighting for social justice and defending those in worse circumstances. Both Matt and Eliza are instrumental in helping Javed realize that he can’t blame his family for his own failures and that he has to take responsibility for his actions if he wants to accomplish his goals.
Javed’s family is Muslim. Accordingly, his mother covers her hair in public, and his dad attends morning prayers at the local mosque, which is seen in the background of at least two scenes. There are a few references to Islam’s rules about drinking and sex. Roops and his family are Sikh, and he wears a turban throughout the film. (Javed eventually discovers a dance club where many Pakistani youth feel free to shed their cultural inhibitions and dance with abandon, which the film depicts in a positive light even though the club itself is quite clandestine.)
Javed’s father mentions Jewish people a few times and continually mistakes Bruce Springsteen as being Jewish. Eliza and Javed attend an anti-facist party in a church cemetery. A church in Bruce Springsteen’s hometown is seen in the background of a picture.
An organization called the National Front is very hostile to the Pakistani population in Luton, apparently for both racial and religious reasons. Javed’s teacher calls Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a “witch.”
Javed and Eliza slow dance together and kiss. Elsewhere, Eliza and Javed make out on his couch while his family isn’t home. His sister, Shazia, comes home unexpectedly and catches them. However, she leaves quickly with the promise that she won’t tell their parents, and it is uncertain whether or not they continue. (Javed later finds that Shazia has been secretly going to the underground dance club mentioned above; there, Pakistani youth engage in sensual dancing that no doubt would have scandalized their more traditional parents.)
Roops crudely jokes that Javed has “popped his Bruce cherry” and that “you never forget your first time” after Javed listens to a Springsteen cassette tape that Roops gives him. He also comments to a waitress that he likes his tea the same way he likes his girls: sweet.
Matt makes out with his girlfriend in public several times. He also gives Javed an object with a fertility symbol on it for his birthday. A girl answers the door wearing her boyfriend’s shirt and then he walks out shirtless, implying they just had sex. There are male nude statues outside of a dance club. Teenage girls wear the short skirts and midriff-bearing shirts of ‘80s fashion. We hear the lyrics, “The night belongs to lovers.”
Javed’s family is stopped when a National Front parade blocks the road. When his dad asks them to move out of the way, he is attacked by parade participants. Other male members of his family jump in, and police break up the fight with batons. But not before his dad is given a bloody nose. Javed and his dad get into a brief physical altercation.
Javed is spat on twice and physically threatened for being a “Paki,” a pig’s head is mounted on the mosque that his family attends. A woman hits a teenage boy with her purse and then chases him.
The s-word is used four times, and the British equivalent “shite” is used once. “P-ss” is said once. God’s name is taken in vain once. The word “frickin’” is used once as a substitute for the f-word. We hear British vulgarities such as “bloody,” “w-nker” and “s-d.” Several racial slurs are made, most notably “dirty Paki” and “smelly Paki.”
Javed calls Luton “a four-letter word,” but never actually says the word (although we can guess that he probably means the s-word). “NF scum” is written and said derogatorily multiple times in regard to the National Front political party.
At a family dinner, Eliza’s dad offers a glass of wine to Javed (a practice more culturally accepted in Europe), but Javed declines since he is Muslim. However, her father pours the wine anyway. Javed’s dad doesn’t want him to go to America because he believes the drug problem is worse there.
We witness virulent racism against Pakistani immigrants throughout the film, ranging from mocking to actual physical violence. This racism is a point of contention between Javed and his dad, since his dad is a proud Pakistani man and Javed just wants to be a normal British teenager. It also causes issues with his girlfriend’s family (they think she only dates “colored” boys for the shock factor).
Javed’s dad tells him to “follow the Jews” at school because of the stereotype that Jewish people are very successful. An elderly man who fought in World War II is saddened that there are young men wearing swastikas in Luton.
Blinded by the Light is based a true story, one that gives us not only a portrait of the power of music, but a picture of the racial prejudice that Javed and his Pakistani family experienced in 1980s England. The aggressive behavior displayed towards them is disgusting. However, his family admirably responds with grace and restraint.
We also watch as Javed’s family struggles to make sense of their son’s interest in Bruce Springsteen and his seeming rejection of the Pakistani values. For Javed, however, Springsteen’s lyrics express the tension between alienation and hope. And the American rock icon’s lyrics play a significant role in encouraging Javed’s budding career as a writer.
Along the way, we’re occasionally exposed to profanity and some mildly suggestive moments. Mostly, though, this dramedy focuses on a struggling teen’s dreams, and how the music he loves helps him overcome the obstacles he encounters.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.