“Where are you going?”
The plethora of dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature and movies makes it difficult to find a new and fresh look on the oversaturated sub-genre. As “The Book of Eli” opens, nothing seems very new. The gray sky, stone rubble, and the unspoken law that one may only dress in tans and blacks are not new to the Hughes Brothers’ picture. What is new is the subject of the plot – a book.
That’s right. People are shooting stabbing, robbing, mugging and raping over a book. Well, books in general.
After Eli, played by the never-disappointing Denzel Washington takes care of a few roadside ambushers, we’re introduced to the town. Carnegie, the film’s villain, is played by Gary Oldman, a world-class actor if there ever was one. He’s essentially the totalitarian dictator of the town, and sends his henchmen on the road to steal books. Following the nuclear war that we’re told later is the cause for their current situation, the number of literate people must have sharply decreased. Now books are very high in value and those who can read them have the power, or so Carnegie believes. Yet, the books that they bring him always result in disappointment; because he’s looking for one specific book.
So Eli comes to town. Carnegie realizes that he is a literate man, and a plan formulates in his mind. A literate man must have books. So he sends his slave’s/mistress’s daughter Solara, played by Mila Kunis, to seduce him. This is where most of these films take a dive for the worst. Eli, however, opens the door and tells her to leave. She then begs him to let her stay, saying that she’ll even sleep on the floor. Her fear for their cruel master is overwhelming, so Eli allows it. Being a kind man, he even shares his food with her and prays with her before they eat. During that night, she discovers that Eli has a book in her possession.
The next day, Solara prays with her mother before they eat. Carnegie recognizes the words and forces Solara to admit that Eli has a book. She doesn’t know what it is, but shows a symbol of a cross.
Carnegie has struck gold.
He and his thugs attempt to keep Eli from leaving. We find that Carnegie wants the book because he believes he can control people with it. In the course of the ensuing fight, the bullets only graze Eli, despite being assaulted from all directions. He amply takes care of Carnegie’s men, and Solara brings him to the town’s water supply. She hopes to accompany him, but he locks her in, probably an attempt at keeping her safe.
When Solara gets out, she recklessly goes after Eli, but is jumped by a group of men intent on raping her. Thankfully, Eli saves the day (it’s before they get very far, there’s nothing explicit in this scene).
From there, they travel together until they reach their destination – the West Coast of the United States; after avoiding more interruptions from Carnegie, of course.
First, a negative point. There is a lot of language in the film. Someone brought to my attention that the language is exclusively used by the villains. That might be a point in terms of how someone is presented, but in my opinion it is not worth us hearing it in order to make a point about the bad guys. They slaughter dozens of people without mercy. I think that’s enough to get the point.
By way of analysis, there’s a lot to say about the movie. First of all, the film’s message is unapologetically Christian. I mean that without reservation. The book is The Bible, which Eli even quotes to Solara. He begins quoting it from Genesis 1:1 at the end of the film. This is also in stark contrast to other films that include the Bible, because it is done so without any qualifiers. It is represented wholly and truly as The Word.
Secondly, there is case after case of God’s providence in the movie. Bullets barely graze Eli. He says he hears a voice that tells him to go west, which we would presume to be God. Also, a twist at the end of the movie tells us it would have been impossible for Eli to do all that he did during the film, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Third, Eli’s virtue. He refuses to sleep with a woman and constantly looks out for her well-being through the film. Also, note that this film did not rely on sexual allurement or a love-story. It stood on its own.
Fourth, Carnegie says “I know its power.” (referring to the Bible). He tells Eli that the Book needs to be shared, and asks Eli “don’t you believe that?” Eli replies “With all my heart and soul.” Yet, he doesn’t play into Carnegie’s hands. Carnegie was using what is technically a Biblical concept: evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20); although he isn’t doing so sincerely. This is very similar to the way Satan misuses scripture (see Matthew 4). At the end of the movie, the book does get shared. Just not in the way that Carnegie imagined it. Also note that Carnegie, as the villain, did not reject the Bible. He just wanted to misuse it. It’s a very appropriate message for today, where the scripture is misused constantly to mislead people seeking God.