After the military takes over the government in Uruguay, three members of a revolutionary movement, Mujica, Mauricio, and Eleuterio, are among those arrested by the military. Because of how influential they were to the movement, the military government requests that they’re transferred from the prison they were currently in, and taken to another prison where they will be in solitary confinement.
As they arrive at the new prison with blindfolds covering their eyes, the three men are introduced to the top military officer at the prison. After that, their clothes are taken, and the men are cuffed before being taken to their different cells.
Before the men can settle in, a group of military officers try to suffocate them almost immediately. The three of them are able to survive, though they’re in a lot of pain.
However, the military officers don’t seem to care as they tell the prisoners to remain standing until they’re asked to do otherwise. The three men continue standing until the officers come the next morning and uncuff their hands.
With that, the men are able to take off the blindfold and get a glimpse of their new cells. While they don’t know what to expect, Eleuterio sees an inscription on the wall saying that anyone who enters the cell should abandon all hope.
Shortly after, the three men are given letters from the Ministry of Defense, which includes a warning for them not to talk to each other or to the soldiers. That night, when they want to sleep, they struggle to get any sleep because the soldiers start banging on the doors to disturb them. In the morning, Mauricio wakes up and tries to exercise in front of his window, but the soldiers find out and block it with iron sheets that have very tiny holes.
A year soon passes, and the prisoners are again moved to another prison. This time, they get a cell that has a bed, though the conditions are still pretty harsh for them. While in the new prison, the Military chief comes over to see them. He tells each of them that they will be killed if there is any attack from their revolutionary movement. He also refers to them as hostages, saying he wished he could’ve killed them when he had the chance, but now that he can’t do it, the plan is to drive them crazy.
He also tells Mauricio that his family has been pestering him for a while, and that if he lets them in, Mauricio has to behave rightly and pretend like everything is fine, or else things will be harder for him and his family too.
After the military chief leaves, the men get a haircut, and they are also allowed to bathe before seeing a doctor. Later that day, Mauricio’s parents bring his daughter to visit him. He looks very happy to see them, and tells him things are going quite well inside the prison.
He makes jokes with his daughter, but after a while, his dad suddenly starts saying he doesn’t like how Mauricio looks. As the man stands up, he falls to the ground, and while trying to see what happened and call for help for his father, Mauricio is taken back to his cell.
On Day 803, as prisoners of the military government, Mujica, Mauricio, and Eleuterio are moved again to another prison. This time, their cells are even smaller, and gradually, Mujica starts to lose his mind. Christmas day soon comes, and while the soldiers are feasting and blowing off fireworks, the three men stay in their cells looking rather sad about their situation. However, Eleuterio suddenly starts knocking on the wall, to see if he’ll get a response from his friends if any of them are close.
Luckily, Mauricio is in the cell next to him, and he returns the knocks. This excites both men as they manage to find a way to communicate by knocking on the wall. Happy about the new development, Eleuterio wishes Mauricio Merry Christmas through their newly found method of communicating.
Many days later, Eleuterio and Mauricio have gotten more used to their communication style, and they use it to ask each other questions about where they are. Quite interestingly, the men also play an imaginary chess game by communicating their moves to each other as if they’re actually using a chess board.
On the next day, Eleuterio needs to use the toilet, but when one of his hands is cuffed to a pipe close to the top of the building, he’s unable to do it properly. He calls a soldier to explain his situation, but instead of giving Eleuterio an answer, the soldier goes to call a superior to decide what to do. As the superior comes, he also reaches out to the person he answers to, and this seems to go on for a while until the report gets to the highest official in the prison, who gets angry when he sees the situation he has been asked to come and solve.
While in the toilet, Eleuterio steals part of a newspaper that has been disposed of next to the toilet. When he returns to his cell, Eleuterio finds out the latest things happening in Uruguay and shares it with Mauricio.
Meanwhile, Mujica continues to lose his mind and shout at himself as he seems to now be hearing voices in his head. He also hallucinates and speaks to an imaginary figure of his mother. Rather surprisingly, Mujica’s mom actually came around on that day, but after asking to see her son, she doesn’t get a favorable response from the soldiers, as she’s even left in the rain while she waits to see if she can see her son.
That night, the men are transferred again to another prison, and there, they find rats in their cells. Even though the cell is also spacious, the soldiers come over to make a demarcation of where they’re allowed to stay.
On Day 1529, the men struggle to sleep because an officer keeps talking loudly, about how he likes a girl he just met, but doesn’t know if she likes him back. Mauricio cuts in as the soldier, whose name is Barriola, is talking to his colleague. Mauricio tells him that he can help him get the girl if he brings him a pen and paper. Barriola and the other soldiers shout at him for talking to them, and also bringing up such an idea.
However, Barriola seems to really like the lady so much, that he brings the paper and pen to let Mauricio dictate what he should write to get his girl. Mauricio helps him with the words to write, and after he’s done, he leaves. On the next day, a group of soldiers come over to take Mauricio out of his cell. They leave him in a different room, where a sergeant named Alzamora soon comes in, and asks if he’s the writer who helped Barriola.
Mauricio says he’s the one, and it turns out that Alzamora also has the same problem as Barriola. he tells Mauricio about a girl he recently met and also wants to ask her out. Like he helped Barriola, Mauricio writes a letter for Alzamora, who is impressed when he reads it.
Seeing as the sergeant is in a good mood, Mauricio asks him if he can keep the writing materials. Alzamora doesn’t hesitate much before handing it back to Mauricio before he’s then taken back to his cell. A few days later, Alzamora calls for Mauricio again, and this time, Mauricio enjoys proper food for the first time in a long time. Alzamora shares more information about the lady he likes and what she wants. With that, Mauricio helps him decide what to do, and also writes another letter.
Later that day, when Alzamora is listening to a football match commentary on the radio, he decides to turn up the volume so that Mauricio and his fellow prisoners will hear the commentary. A goal is scored in the football match and that excites Mauricio as well as the others.
Following that, Mauricio has to write another letter for Alzamora, after he receives yet another feedback from the sergeant. That night, though, the hostages have to be transferred yet again.
During their journey, which runs into the day, the truck is stopped so that the hostages can ease themselves. Since he now has an advantage and extra privilege over the others, Mauricio asks for the cloth covering his head to be removed, and the soldier assigned to him takes it off slightly, so that Mauricio can see the sun as well as the surroundings.
When they get to their new prison, Mauricio is also the only one who gets a cell without a fully blocked door.
Meanwhile, Mujica continues to struggle to keep his head together, and he also has a nightmare where a cop kills him. Eleuterio also struggles with his own problems, as he starts remembering his past and imagining that his wife is in the cell with him.
Days later, they are again moved to a different prison. Eleuterio and Mauricio continue to communicate with each other, and when Eleuterio tells his friend that his daughter is coming to see him for the first time in a while, Mauricio tells him a story that he can narrate to her.
Eleuterio does just this when his daughter is around. She also seems to enjoy the story, but time soon runs out, and Eleuterio is taken away before he can finish.
The next day, the prisoners are left shocked as the soldiers bring in several items like a table and chair, books, radio, and even more food into their cells. After they enjoy it for a couple of days, it turns out to be part of a plan by the soldiers to let them be treated well before they meet with the review board of the International Red Cross committee.
The prisoners are taken to the meeting, and before they go in, they are threatened not to say anything bad about the treatment they’ve been receiving, since they got into custody.
Eleuterio is the first one to be interviewed, and he sees it as an opportunity to speak out and let people know how much they’ve been suffering. He thinks about telling the truth, but he eventually just answers the questions as he’d been instructed by the soldier who is standing behind him.
When the prisoners return to their cells, their few days of enjoyment end as the soldiers come over to take all the items they brought in earlier. After a few days, the military chief arrives and requests to see Eleuterio.
It turns out that among the things they’d taken away from Eleuterio’s room, there was a bar of soap, he had written some sort of code. The military chief believes Eleuterio is trying to send a message to someone on the outside, but he is proven wrong when Eleuterio shows that it’s nothing but random codes that have no real meaning.
The military chief laughs at it, and also says he regrets not killing Eleuterio and the others when he had the chance.
It turns out that on the day Eleuterio and the others were captured, it had just been announced that the military had taken over the government. Eleuterio is in a house with some friends when he notices that everywhere is silent. He immediately runs to hide in the ceiling with another man, and they see a military vehicle approaching the house. The owner of the house Eleuterio is staying in decides to surrender, and she goes out only to see the soldiers pointing their guns at the house.
There is absolute silence for a while, as Eleuterio watches to see if the soldiers accept. However, the soldiers start shooting sporadically, killing the woman and even her husband, who is inside the house. The shooting continues for a long time, and Eleuterio is caught in the crossfire, though the other man with him in the ceiling remains okay, as the bullets don’t hit him.
The military chief asks the soldiers to go in to check the house, and when they don’t see any other person, they wait for some top officials to arrive at the scene. As the officials check around the house, it appears that the soldiers had planted guns in the hands of the dead couple to make it look like they started the shooting, and that was why they were killed.
As the men continue to assess the situation, a soldier goes into the restroom to ease himself. While washing his hands, he notices blood dripping from the ceiling, and he’s able to confirm that there are people there. Seeing as they could be killed, Eleuterio tells his partner to surrender by shouting out loud so the officials can hear him. Eleuterio’s partner hesitates as he believes he can handle the situation.
Meanwhile, the soldier goes out to inform the military chief of what he saw in the restroom. To avoid arousing suspicion about where he’s going, the military chief sneakily moves up to the restroom. There, he confirms what the soldier had told him, and just as he points his gun up to shoot, Eleuterio’s partner shouts that there are people in the ceiling, and they’ve surrendered. This ruins the military chief’s plan to kill them as the two officials come in and tell the soldiers to rescue the men.
Back in the present, the military chief tells Eleuterio that he deserves nothing but hell. Eleuterio says he accepts his mistakes, and takes responsibility for all his bad actions with the revolutionary movement. He also says he accepts the consequences, though he doesn’t believe he has been defeated like the military chief says. The military chief tells Eleuterio that he’ll never leave prison, and that’s as good as a defeat. However, Eleuterio says he doesn’t mind dying in prison because he has atoned for his crimes and served punishment for it.
The next day, Mujica’s mom finally gets to see him. She tells him she brought some things for him, but Mujica doesn’t seem to be himself. He suddenly tells his mother to stop coming to see him, saying he doesn’t want them to treat her badly for something he did.
He also talks about how he has been hearing things, and how he wants to stop thinking because that’s all he does in his cell. Mujica’s mom begs her son to get his head right so that he doesn’t get killed. He says he doesn’t know how to do that, but his mom tells him he must keep fighting.
During an event at the prison, Mujica starts shouting for the soldiers to bring him the things his mother brought for him. As he continues to get louder, and also disturb the event, the soldiers have no choice but to come over to his cell to try to shut him up. However, Mujica seems to know that one of the soldiers is having an affair, and he threatens to reveal it by shouting the details at the event as well.
With this, Mujica is able to get what he wants. The soldiers are then worried that something is wrong with him, and they decide to call their superiors to report it.
On the next day, Mujica is taken to see a doctor. At the doctor’s place, Mujica talks about how he’s feeling, and also how he frequently hears voices in his head. The doctor tells Mujica that he’s suffering from delusional psychosis, so, she prescribes some drugs and also tells him he needs to sleep more often.
Mujica, however, says he doesn’t need sleep, and that he needs to organize his head by reading and writing. Even though the doctor doesn’t initially agree with him, she eventually tells him she’ll get him some books. She also tells him to try to survive because his ordeal is almost over, though Mujica doesn’t understand this.
On day 2757, the soldiers are preparing to watch the results of an election aimed at bringing back democracy. Even though the TV volume is loud, the prisoners are unable to hear clearly. Eleuterio asks Mauricio about the results, but he also doesn’t know. However, they soon find out what the result is when the soldiers angrily leave their desks and come in to beat them, even though they did nothing wrong. The results appear to have ended with a win for those looking to negotiate a return to democracy in the government.
Days later, the prisoners are moved again to a new prison, and there, they are allowed to take a walk under supervision and with their heads covered. Mujica also receives the books the doctor had promised to give him.
On day 3053, they are again moved to a different prison, which turns out to be Alzamora’s prison. Mauricio looks happy to see the sergeant, and when he asks about the lady he used to help him write to, Alzamora shows him his wedding ring, telling Mauricio that they have gotten married already. As he now feels indebted to Mauricio, Alzamora tells him to ask for anything he wants, and Mauricio requests for a time in the yard with his friends.
That afternoon, the three men see each other for the first time in years, and they genuinely look happy about it.
On day 3989, the men are taken back to the first prison they were locked in, and the facilities are much better, with the prisoners also getting back their uniforms. While they’re being taken to another section of the prison where other prisoners like them are staying, Eleuterio gets chants from everyone as he moves around and pretends to play football.
On day 4323, the men are prepared for release, with Mujica being the first one to be released. On his way out, he’s asked to sign a document to confirm that he was treated well throughout his prison time. Even though he knows they were not treated well in most places they were transferred to, Mujica just reluctantly signs it as it’s all that is left for him to be a free man.
The soldier in charge, however, makes one last attempt to threaten him, saying Mujica shouldn’t think he’s completely free because they’ll keep track of him and find him if they need to. Mujica just tells the man he wishes him the best before leaving.
Eleuterio and Mauricio are also about to be released, but Eleuterio stays back a little to wash all the pots and cooking utensils. When he’s asked why he’s doing it, he says he’s keeping it clean for the next prisoners.
Shortly after, he and Mauricio finally make their way into a bus headed for a crowd that is happily waiting for them. After a long and exciting trip to where the crowd is, Mauricio, Eleuterio, and Mujica finally reunite with their families after twelve years in solitary confinement.
In the years that follow, Eleuterio becomes a senator and defense minister. Mauricio becomes a poet and novelist. And Mujica first became a congressman before getting elected, as President of Uruguay in 2010.