Faith & Sight in The BOOK OF ELI
As we finish our 3-shot review on The
1. “…for we walk by faith, not by sight”– 2 Corinthians 5:7
While the apostle Paul is talking about a Christian’s confident trust in God’s promises, The Book of Eli‘s point – that the titular character is literally blind, carrying a braille Bible – is how the film hammers home the unquestionable providence at work in our hero’s journey. Denzel Washington‘s subtle-yet-tactile handling of his environment DOES testify to this: he feels a corpse for it’s boots because he doesn’t see them, holds a shotgun out until it taps a door in front of him, even follows a faucet head down to the knob. Morning sun wakes him not because of light IN his face, but rather warmth ON his face. Eli’s other senses are enhanced, like a God-gifted Daredevil (he “smelled” the robbers) and blindness might explain his “resolute” stance when Redridge debates – and withholds – from shooting him. Could it be that Eli wasn’t aware of his danger? If you don’t buy God’s presence in the film, you probably won’t buy the revelation of his blindness. Apart from a miracle (or a radioactive bat-bite) Eli’s radar-sharp awareness and missional resilience don’t add up.
2. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
Ray Stephenson plays Redridge, who easily could have been a one-note toady. However, Redridge is disgusted by the depravity of his compatriots, while also lusting for Solara… yet still bearing a sliver of conscience. Stephenson makes an underwritten secondary character nuanced, and it’s a tribute to his acting. Though not power-mad like Carnegie, he’s forsaken morals for comfort and position. You get the sense he feels as trapped as Solara, longing for something better… but he has no faith. Or does he? In town, why does he let Eli go? We’re left to speculate his final thoughts as Redridge tumbles out of the truck and dies on his knees. Is his last act trying to aid Solara’s escape, making Carnegie see there’s no gain in coming back? Is a penitent posture happenstance, or reflective of Redridge’s heart? In some ways, he was my favorite character.
3. “Go therefore and make disciples…” – Matthew 28:19
My one disappointment is the ending’s shortchange to the screenplay; in the script, Solara (Mila Kunis) heads back out into the wasteland with more than Eli’s swords and confidence… she’s carrying one of the newly printed Bibles in her backpack. She’s clearly going to spread the good news of the book her mentor died to protect and propagate. The film shows a newly-printed Bible put on a shelf, but misses the opportunity to show one leaving in Solara’s possession. Kunis as butt-kicking action hero doesn’t quite look right anyway, and without a targeted mission of spreading the Word the ending is weaker. Perhaps she’s going back to face Carnegie and save her mother… which isn’t terrible, but isn’t the high calling it could have been. As Eli clung to the Bible, the Hughes Brothers should have stuck to the written word of the screenplay. See what happens when you paraphrase?
Despite a few quibbles, this film will likely make my top 10 for 2010. Between the obvious appeal of the base subject matter to the bleak vision of The Hughes Brothers, The Book of Eli not only survives – but thrives – in January’s wasteland.
UPDATE! Audio review of the film now available here!
I’m the writer of The Book of Eli, just wanted to say thanks for the great analysis of the film. Definitely one of the most intelligent and on-point I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot!). Thanks a lot and I’m glad you enjoyed the movie 🙂
Well, well reviewed, James. For once we’re in total agreement on every point. (Quick! Mark the date!)
Now if we could only interview Mr. Witta…
uh, I’ll take a comment from Mr. Whitta as more than sufficient. In fact, I think I’m sweating (but in a good way). Sometimes forget who might be reading here on the internets:)
Thanks for your compliment and encouragement Gary. It made my day. I’d say “made my week” but it is Good Friday and Easter coming up so you’re necessarily trumped by Jesus.
I loved reading this 3-post review, James! I saw this movie twice in the first week it was released, and we are still talking about it every now and then in our college group Bible study 🙂
Thank you Gary for writing such a powerful and intriguing story! In so many ways, the entire authorship and production of “The Book of Eli” truly hits home, with theatrically adapted reality, taken from history, pointing straight to God, in ageless Old Testament figure. From the realism-saturated brutality of sin and its gateway to total human depravity, to that relentless, unfaltering Old Testament faith that we’ve seen in such godly men as Moses, David, Ezra, Isaiah, etc. – this film delivers.
Thanks for the great encouragement and the great entertainment. Thank you for working so hard to put more of him, *points up*, into all of this, *gestures to everything*.
God bless you.
wow, looks like you have far reaching viewership James 😉
keep up the good work.
Book of Eli is a wake up call for originality in both secular and Christian movies.
everything from top to bottom was solid, right on. Two points that walked away with me: the Bible can be our connection to God and the way that we are led by Him, guiding all of our life, or it is our means to an end, the card we play to get what we want. Secondly, the closing scene we see of this book that someone labored so much to deliver, giving up his life, just sitting on the shelf doesn’t and shouldn’t sit right with me. It is however, exactly what we do so often, both in personal life and in churches. That scene served as a call to action for me. (and I assumed Mila carried a copy in her backpack, since she served as Eli(jah)’s Elisha)
That people are upset with the violence and profanity in the book, show that they need to read the entirety of their Bible a little more and obey it over moralism.
Thanks Mr. Whitta for an incredible ride, we will be using it in our Men’s Ministry when it comes out on DVD.
I agree with you, Jason. I felt that Lombardi represented the intellectual who was interested in preserving the Bible, along with all the other books, for the sake of culture and history. The hope was in Solara who had a passion for the message.
My take on the end was that Solara, who, if I remember correctly, couldn’t read, was taking the Braille copy back to the one person who would be able to read it, her mother Claudia. Claudia was such a conflicted character. She’s someone who has an instinct about what’s right and understands Carnegie’s failings but can’t bring herself to let go of the comfort and protection he offers. I felt like Solara wants her mother to understand the messages that Eli personified: to find your life you have to lose it and that the only hope for freedom was in the fearless love the Book offers.
James, thanks for an excellent series.
Thanks for the review, Pastor James.
I read them a little bit some time ago, but decided to stop reading the review and watch the movie first.
And I’ve watched it last night, with my dad (a professing non-Christian, and a freemason) and a good friend of mine (christian), an invitation for my dad’s birtday.
My dad loved it, and I think it might start a good conversation.
Thanks for the great tips here at cinemagogue.com and film & theology @ MH, it really helps me out.
No, maureen. If you remember, Solara’s mother already felt the Braille copy with Carnegie towards the end. That was a major point in the film, was that Eli had memorized the entire Scripture. and that’s how it was reprinted. By Lombardi writing what Eli repeated to him. Your ending would be nice, but impossible.
Did you notice what was printed on the spine? I thought that I noticed Van or Von. In another post someone thinks they saw “Alkatraz Edition” printed on it when it was put on the shelf after if was printed. Where can I find an actual picture of the spine of the Bible which was printed at the end of the movie Book of Eli?
Thank you Gary Whitta for sparking debate by writing an open-ended epic tale. Sweet. My thoughts on the omission of Solara taking the book on her journey home: during the printing of the kjv on alcatraz, the moviemakers show us that more than one copy was being printed. That means that the book which we see sit along side of the quran and the torah was merely one of many copies made. I like to think the notetaker on the island was kind enough to give her a copy for her journey back home.
I Loved ‘The Book of Eli’, but was concerned at the end,bout having no other gods before God. Putting it on the shelf with all the other gods bothers me. Seemed like it was trying to appease all major religions. Close to ‘pandering’. However,one person made a fair enough point of view,that all religions (good) play a roll and need to be protected. I can deal with that,besides the tenderness and compassion and reverence goes a long way with me. Well done,please make more of these movies with substance and keep the debates going. As far as Denzel goes,I dont really care for his personal beliefs and principles,but dearly love him as an actor. He makes you just want to hug him and smile.
Nice job, James. Very clear and well rounded review. I also listened to your sermon/review on the Mars Hill website. I wanted to throw my two cents in on something that you mentioned, and is also raised in concern by the last post on here contributed by Laura. In the closing scene, the Bible is placed (as mentioned) on the shelf with the other religious texts and documents of the other major world religions. However, I believe that Mr. Whitta’s intent is showcased in the fact that the Bible is not only central on the shelf (as James has mentioned), but it is also TALLER than any of the surrounding texts, and thus symbolically “towers” as authority over any competitors to the truth. Also, it’s mentioned earlier by Eli that all of the other Bibles in the world were burned and destroyed, but we see that God has miraculously preserved a copy of His Word to be delivered. It’s important to note that when he does deliver, the caretaker says “we’ve had all of this and that, but NEVER a Bible”. Since we see that all of the other texts are already there, we draw that none of them faced the same amount of persecution and attempted obliteration as the Bible. Yet, there it stands. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” ~ Luke 21:33
BTW: I also felt that Redridge had a faith consumation/conversion moment at his death. We’ve seen the slow building of his conflicted conscience. The piercing of Eli’s “sword” to his heart, and his transcendent moment of peace when he takes off his goggles and feels the warmth of the light and sun on his face.
I just wanted to say, thank you, David Hatten. I have been wondering if anyone else had that same opinion about Redridge, and this is the first time I’ve seen anyone else say something of that sort. I’m glad we agree, cause that part to me was pretty powerful. It symbolized, to me, the death of the man next to Jesus on the cross, at that last part before death, as long as you open your heart, you can be saved.