“Dear Lord… Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path…”
The Book of Eli was my favorite film in January 2010, though considering this is usually the month where movies go to die (save for the occasional horror film, so if a film is “undead” it’s okay) Eli didn’t have stiff competition. However, I was desperate to see this movie for an atypical reason:
My wife got an advance copy of the screenplay over a year ago from a friend and was struck by its unerring Christian center. She summarized it for me, from awesome apocalyptic beginning to its shock-peppered ending, and I was surprised. We both agreed there was NO way this screenplay would ever get made. When we heard it was in production, and starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, we were blown away… yet determinedly pessimistic. We altered our tune, certain there was NO way it would ever survive with all the biblical elements intact.
We were (happily) mistaken. Not only have The Hughes Brothers made a thoroughly enjoyable film, they maintained it’s spirit and even surprised me with the casting of Denzel as a very quiet, deliberate action hero. (click here for the trailer)
A lot of people don’t know what to do with Eli. Secular critics have lambasted it from various angles, though dancing around its ultimately pro-Bible, pro-God message. Fundamentalist Christians aren’t sure what to do with the violence and profanity. To me, this gives the movie a fascinating tension that cuts right down the middle, as sharp and unrelenting as the character of Eli slices through the profane and maintains the importance of God’s guidance and Word.
The film seems to have had 3 obvious, notable stylistic influences:
1. Bleak future reminiscent of B-grade 80s apocalyptic films (but with the budget and effects they always wanted).
2. Solitary avenger evoking shades of Clint Eastwood’s classic spaghetti-western “man with no name”.
3. “Future-western” feel with guns, swords and martial arts feels like a live action anime (Trigun?)
It’s not much of a spoiler to say we learn pretty early on that the solitary Eli is headed west, carrying what he believes is the last King James Bible, convinced he is being led by God. He crosses paths with depraved robbers, local power-grabbing tyrants, and the rare person who still seems to have anything resembling the “milk of human kindness”. It may not be as depressing as The Road, but the film has a gravity and weight between action sequences that is palpable. I’m also hard pressed to think of a film – other than one you’d find at some cheesy Christian bookstore – with more scripture quoted than The Book of Eli. That element alone made the film, and it’s cultural placement, unique and fascinating to see and hear.
Some Christians might complain about a few scripted lines, such as one where Eli explains most copies of the Bible were burned because some claimed it was “the cause” of the apocalyptic war. In a culture like ours that frequently wants to blame all war on religion, I think this is simply a fair assessment and a likely reality that would occur; it’s not the film speaking against the Bible so much as simply noting our blame-shifting and fear. Another beat in the film’s narrative drum does deal with other religious books – something Christian critics may point out as pluralistic – but the reality is the centrality and weight of the Bible in the film is still evident, and the question of God’s presence in Eli’s life makes the film’s focus fairly obvious.
Suffice to say, The Book of Eli is now one of my favorite post-apocalyptic films. Although the obvious theme of the Bible’s importance is carried – literally – throughout the story, the film also has key points to make about man, religion, and God that we’ll discuss in the second part (click here).
Until then: what are YOUR favorite post-apocalyptic films… and WHY?