Jacob (Dorel Visan) is a gold miner who risks his life daily to support his wife, mother-in-law, and four children in this socio-political drama. Under the rule of an oppressive monarchy backed by military force, the miners often resort to stealing gold to compensate for their meager wages. Workers are subjected to strip searches and are forced to take laxatives by the often brutal guards and inspectors as they look for stolen gold, and Jacob raises his vocal objections over the treatment of his fellow workers.
Nada, a down-on-his-luck construction worker, discovers a pair of special sunglasses. Wearing them, he is able to see the world as it really is: people being bombarded by media and government with messages like "Stay Asleep", "No Imagination", "Submit to Authority".
Jesus (Willem Dafoe), a humble Judean carpenter beginning to see that he is the son of God, is drawn into revolutionary action against the Roman occupiers by Judas (Harvey Keitel) -- despite his protestations that love, not violence, is the path to salvation.