Title: The Book of Eli (2010)
Directors: The Hughes Brothers
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits
Most post-apocalyptic films play with the same themes and situations over and over again. In these films, most of the time humanity is fighting for gasoline, water or food. The main preoccupation in many of these films is to simply keep the human race going, to not let the light of humanity fade away. So many times, procreation plays a big part in these films. And most of the time, it’s humans vs. humans, humanity as their own greatest enemy. And I’m not saying The Book of Eli is the most original post-apocalyptic film ever, because it isn’t. It actually plays with many of the genre trappings we’ve come to expect from post-apocalyptic films. But fear not! The Book of Eli actually displays a glimmer of originality! To my understanding, this is the first post apocalyptic film to address issues of religion and belief as an integral part of its plot. That I remember, only one other post apocalyptic film does this (albeit in an extremely superficial manner) and that was Enzo G. Castelliari’s Italian flick The New Barbarians (1983), a film in which a religious sect called ‘The Templars’ is in a mission to wipe the earth clean of those they don’t consider worthy. The Book of Eli addresses religiosity a bit differently and in a more profound way. It’s nowhere near as cheesy or unintentionally funny as The New Barbarians was.
In The Book of Eli we meet a lonely nomad named Eli, he wanders the world all alone, same as the main characters in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and The Postman (1997). On his treks across the lonely quiet earth, Eli stumbles upon the usual gang of crazies that a loner will encounter in these types of films, you know, rapists, cannibals, and all around undesirables. Finally, Eli comes upon a town that’s trying to re-emerge from the ashes of the post apocalyptic world, trying to re-establish civilization and regain some normalcy. The towns’ leader, a man called Carnegie says that he needs a book in order to give the people of his town some hope; this book is the bible! And it seems that Eli has the only copy in existence! Eli uses the bible in a benevolent manner, while Carnegie wants to use it to control and manipulate his people. He sees the bible as a weapon that can be used to manipulate the minds of the weak. Apparently, this is a world that’s so far down the apocalypse, that they’ve forgotten all about religion. Too bad for Carnegie that Eli, same as The Blues Brothers (1980) themselves were, is on a mission from God. Eli says that one day; God talked directly to him and told him where he needs to take the book. So it is Eli’s mission to take the bible to this safe heaven. He tries not to get distracted, but this is something that is getting increasingly difficult for Eli, especially when Carnegie gets a whiff of the bible! Then it’s a race to the finish, will Carnegie get Eli’s bible? Will Eli get the bible to its ultimate destination?
So of course, this being a film that addresses religion, I was immediately interested. I find religion fascinating in many ways, though I don’t subscribe to any belief system. In fact, to be honest, I had not seen this film yet precisely because it was about the bible. I don’t particularly enjoy films that are preachy or try to convince me of how important faith and religion are, because I myself am a staunch non-believer. Im one of those guys who believes that religion is one of the greatest evils in the world. But thanks to this post-apocalyptic themed thing I’m currently conducting here, well, I decided to finally give The Book of Eli a chance a good thing because I actually found myself enjoying it. It reminded me of Alex Proya’s Knowing (2009) in the sense that it’s not exactly preachy. I mean you can either believe Eli was protected by God; or not. You could choose to believe he just really believes in the bible, and it's all in his head, or that God is actually protecting the guy. In the film, Eli represents the true believer; the guy who believes God can and does talk to him; that every word in the bible is worth following to the letter. Yet Eli is a mild mannered humble man; the quintessential good soul who looks forward to doing more for others than he does for himself. I guess he represents that balanced Christian who doesn’t crossover to the dark waters of fanaticism. Carnegie on the other hand represents that evil soul that chooses to use faith in an evil manner like the Jim Jones’ or David Korechs’ of our modern world. The guy who wants to manipulate and benefit from the weak minded. In other words: evil personified. At the same time, the film wisely uses the villain to state many truths. This is something that many films have done in the past and usually happens when a message or a theme is extremely controversial. You get the crazy guy to say it. Or the villain, but that crazy guy kind of makes sense sometimes don’t he?
Aside from its interesting exploration of religion, the film does have a fault or two. I think it needed just a bit more action to it. As it is, this is not a very exciting film, which is really the films only real fault. It does have its action scenes, but they are few. It was cool to see Denzel kicking ass, he actually trained a lot for this role, he did all the fighting sequences himself. But at heart, this is more of the kind of film that wants to explore its themes, and so we get characters having these conversations that explore the ideas of God and faith. The film wants us to believe that God is protecting Eli through out his journey; that the bible is the greatest book ever written, when in reality, it’s a very convoluted book with many, many contradictions. And don’t get me started on the things that don’t make sense about it. But on this film God makes it a priority to spread this book around so the confusion can start all over again! Why not write a new book through Eli who obviously functions as something of a prophet in the film? But no, according to the film, God decides to give the same old bible, with all it’s confusion to the world all over again. The way I saw it, the film states that faith is something that can help us move along through life, to get through it in a less painful manner; with a bit of hope along the way. In one moment of the film Solara, the female character that ends up following Eli around asks him “How do you know that you’re walking in the right direction?” and Eli replies: “I walk by faith, not by sight. It means you know something, even if you don’t know something. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s faith, it’s faith. It’s the flower of light in the field of the darkness that’s giving me the strength to carry on, you understand?” I prefer not to go through life lying to myself. Reality is best for me, it keeps me grounded in something tangible, real. My thoughts don’t drift away to some fantasy land just so I can keep my cool, like some kind of drug to cool me off from the craziness in the world. I find my cool by looking for solutions to my problems, and if I can’t change them, then I adapt to them and keep on moving. But that’s just me, if religion and the bible works for you, coolio my friends!
I found it interesting how Eli says that the voice he heard came from inside of him because I’m sure this is what happens with most people who say they’ve heard the voice of God. They want to believe so much, that they end up hearing voices in their heads, in their dreams. I personally I have faith of a different manner. I choose to believe that humanity will eventually evolve, improve and pull itself out of the darkness if we only leave greed behind and learn from our mistakes. It’s a kind of belief in myself and the idea that I can achieve my goals in life if I put my mind and strength to it. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but then again, so is faith in invisible beings we never hear or see. Still, The Book of Eli was an enjoyable post apocalyptic film. It has A-list actors, two directors who have proven themselves to be good in the past (The Hughes Brothers) and who by the way turned in a great looking film and finally, the film had a decent budget which is a rare thing in the world of post apocalyptic films. In other words, an enjoyable flick that explores faith, if you don't mind the preachy side, then you should have yourself a fine time.
Rating: 4 out of 5