In today’s rabidly anti-Christian Hollywood, this apocalyptic action/drama is sacrilege.
Is it a rated R version of a Cecil B. DeMille film? No. Ben Hur with blood, it is not.
But, taken in its entirety, it could be considered extraordinarily brave for a full-budget film with major Hollyweird “talent”.
The creators behind the film are billed as “The Hughes Brothers” whom I’ve never heard of. Apparently, they are black twins who can claim such great works as Menace II Society, From Hell and, our current fare, The Book of Eli. If I had known this before I rented the film I may not have…which I think would’ve been a mistake. Interestingly enough, Denzel Washington is credited as one of the producers so it appears he had a stake in the project. He never struck me as a particularly religious guy but, then again, this movie is only moderately “religious” (albeit, by my demanding standards).
The movie opens in an obviously post Armageddon America complete with falling nuclear ash. We pan to see our mask-clad lead (“Eli”, played by Denzel Washington) kill a cat with a bow and arrow. Now, it’s a hairless cat and it appears to be chowing on a human corpse but I could’ve done without it. Certainly, you get the picture that surviving is no easy task.
Turns out it’s actually 30 years past whatever Republican-inspired apocalypse has occurred (sarcasm is mine, not implied by the film) and we see that Eli is a drifter.
The movie has a pretty slow start. Eli spends the night in a disheveled house, empty save the punk rocker who hung himself in the closet.
The next day he starts out walking and comes across what is pretty obviously a trap; nasty-looking woman by the side of the road asking for help.
Yep. On cue, out come the Mad Max ruffians to mug the wayward traveler.
But our man Eli is no ordinary traveler.
Honestly, when I think of a silver screen badass, I think more of someone like Ray Stevenson (who plays the villain’s Enforcer, “Redridge”, in our movie). I was not overly familiar with Ray’s work until I saw him as the lead in the gratuitously graphic Punisher: War Zone and I loved him in it, even though I didn’t love so much of the gore. But I wasn’t surprised because The Punisher is the king of comic carnage.
But I digress.
In my thought processes I worked through being comfortable with Washington as the badass because (certainly he wasn’t any more of a stretch than archetypical metrosexual Tom Cruise) and, in real life, hardly anyone who is a true “badass” actually looks it.
Eli very quickly cleans up the gaggle of gangsters with a sharp-looking machete. The bloodletting begins with a classic Clint Eastwood exchange; badguy leader tries to push Eli around, grabs him and lets go to which Eli calmly states, “Put that hand on me again and you won’t get it back.” Badguy puts his hand back on Eli and before you know it, he ain’t got no hand no moe.
According to IMDb, Washington studied under Bruce Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto for his action scenes but, in the movie, we are never told where Eli gets his amazing crimefighting skills from (and there are some, “oh come on” moments, too). The only hint we have is that he wears a Shemagh scarf around his neck such as the kind many in the Special Forces community prefer.
There is an interesting twist at the end when the 1-handed badguy boss asks for Eli’s name and Eli slowly finishes him off. Now some would consider this even more gratuitous than usual for Hollywood but, given the nature of the badguys and my penchant for loving to see unrequited justice get delivered, I appreciated it.
The very next scene lays the groundwork for how Denzel and the twins seemed to be on the same sheet of music with my assessment; “you will eventually reap what you sow”.
As Eli walks along, he is overlooking another road beneath him where a man and woman are also walking. Soon they get waylaid by a motorcycle gang who murders the man and assaults the woman. Eli begins to mumble to himself to “stay on your path…stay on your path.”
I didn’t particularly enjoy the context but there was a sense of reality to the situation. Evil happens all of the time and most of the time, the predators get away with it.
Soon our Eastwood-esque anti-hero saunters into a “town” of dregs and survivors and goes to a merchant to charge his iPod. He then decides to go across the street to the bar to pay for some expensive…water! I will say, throughout the movie, some very poignant points are made about the bountiful blessings available to us in the United States that we so take for granted.
While he’s there, who should accost him but the leader of the very same biker gang.
Our hero tries to avoid a fight but dirtbag ain’t havin’ it..so he gets it, right in the kisser.
As he lays there bleeding and dazed, Eli leans over him and whispers, “I know who you are…a murderer of innocent travelers on the road…you are going to be held to account for the things you have done, do you know that? Do you?”
Dude. It was COOL.
You reap what you sow…eventually.
But now the rest of the gang ain’t happy cause their boy is now sucking dust off the floor. As they surround Eli, he places his precious bag on the ground at his feet and (as colorful ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott would say) gets Biblical on those boys.
“Cursed be the ground for our sake. Oh thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for us. For out of the ground we are taken for the dust we are and to the dust we shall return.”
Now, I think this is a paraphrase of several different passages but that was cool, too!
The only problem is that he has now decimated the muscle of the town’s boss, “Carnegie” played by the very talented Gary Oldman (who looked like sh*t, I hope, on purpose). It seems that Carnegie likes to read…not for elucidation, but to find out how to better control people. A Democrat!!
And his muscle had the job of finding him that one book that was going to make it all easier for him.
So he is now looking to get introduced to Eli via the point of Redridge’s gun. Will Eli stay and join the merry band? No thanks. Why don’t you sleep on it…in a locked room?
To add a carrot along with the stick, Carnegie sends the daughter—“Solara” (played by Mila Kunis)—of his blind slave concubine “Claudia” (played by Jennifer Beals) to entice Eli.
But Eli ain’t havin’ none of that, either. However, Solara begs to stay as a ploy to imply she did what she was sent to do and Eli acquiesces.
Before she’s allowed into his cell, however, he hides what appears to be a very large, traditional Bible. Could this be “the book” Carnegie is after…?
In the process of being the hospitable monk on a mission, Eli invites Solara to join him in the very rare bounty of food he’s been given. There’s one catch; Eli has an odd ritual he forces Solara to go through before they begin eating.
Let me depart from my flippant commentary for a moment to say, it was a powerful moment.
Solara reports back to Carnegie but then mimics the prayer she was taught with mother, Claudia. This alerts Carnegie to the possibility that it is the book he’s been looking for. He then threatens Claudia to get Solara to say Eli has a book and what kind it is. But Solara doesn’t know, she can’t read. Describe it, or else!
Another powerful moment.
Carnegie realizes how close he is and rushes to the locked room. But Eli has vanished and there was a guard right outside the door!
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the Church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the Church to G-d.
On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And, behold, an angel of the L-rd suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the L-rd has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the L-rd had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.
Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. ~Acts 12:1-19
Redridge rather unceremoniously shot Eli’s guard, as well.
And they all catch up in the open street where Eli seems very unintimidated by the number of guns trained on him. Here we find out that, yep, it is the book Carnegie is looking for because he grew up with it and he knows how “faith” can be used to control the masses (a Democrat and a Marxist*—nowadays, the same thing). But Eli has other plans for the Book and continues on “west”.
Soon, a gunfight ensues and it seems that Eli is supernaturally protected and just as supernaturally aiming his handgun, making insane one-handed shots count each and every time. A little annoyed at this, I also counted how many times his one-shot-one-kill kills were shot and, surprisingly, “17” was a realistic number for a modern high-capacity 9mm handgun. Trick shooting notwithstanding.
After exactly 17 rounds, Eli whips out his shotgun and Carnegie catches some shot in the leg.
Having won the gun battle, Eli goes back to walking “west”.
But now Solara wants to tag along and bribes Eli with uncovering the source of Carnegie’s power; a freshwater spring. Eli tries to lock Solara behind because the road ahead is dangerous but she finds a way to start after him again. Except, this time, it’s Solara who is waylaid by the next crop of Armageddon sexual Assaulters (same nasty bait chick, though). She’s about to be subjected to something really nasty, herself, when some well-placed arrows (and I mean well-placed) come flying to her rescue, thanks to Warchief Eli.
Carnegie isn’t about to let his book slip out of his grasp. So he orders Redridge to saddle up and go after them both.
They both have to spend one more night together where there is again some poignant discussion about, “Do you read the same book every day?!”
When they get back on the road, Solara wants to know how Eli is directed and she is told “by a voice” and that he is walking “by faith, not by sight”.
Soon they come upon an old house and they go up to it looking for…hell I don’t know. It’s obviously important to the story.
Living in the house are two unusually cagy old people who seemed to have the booby-trap skills and killing instincts of Green Berets!
Will they stay for food?
Um…not when it’s manflesh courtesy of the previous 15 unsuccessful robbers. Interestingly, there is a neurological degenerative disease that comes to those who eat the brain matter of their own kind:
Kuru is an incurable degenerative neurological disorder (brain disease) that is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, caused by a prion found in humans. The term “kuru” derives from the Fore word “kuria/guria”, “to shake”, a reference to the body tremors that are a classic symptom of the disease; it is also known among the Fore as the laughing sickness due to the pathologic bursts of laughter people would display when afflicted with the disease. It is now widely accepted that Kuru was transmitted among members of the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea via cannibalism. ~Kuru, Wikipedia.org
But now Carnegie has caught up with them and a big gun battle ensues.
Eli assures Solara that they will both make it to their destination intact…but to quote the mad Irishman in Braveheart, the two crazy cannibals were fuhked.
Eli and Solara do get overwhelmed by Carnegie’s firepower and, amazingly, Eli gives up his book to save Solara and gets shot for his trouble.
That isn’t supposed to go that way. WTF?!
Good thing the movie isn’t over yet!
Captured Solara causes an interesting chain of events and is able to steal a vehicle to go back for Eli.
But he’s not there.
He’s walking down the road, west! Gut-shot and all!!
It so happens that they are within a short drive of Eli’s goal; Alcatraz island where some survivors are rebuilding civilization…with books. What’s the one book Librarian and freekazoid Malcolm McDowell really needs most? A Bible!
But wait a minute, they gave up the Bible.
Eli has a way to get it back.
As he waits out the final days of his life, he accomplishes his mission and the final, powerful moment hits the screen like a 16th century Gutenberg press.
If only they stopped there.
But they had to make a PC plug for ecumenical egalitarian kumbaya in what, up to now, was an obviously unashamed statement on the value of the Christian Bible, by showing us how it completed the highly valued works of other religions in the “library” (just like the subtle role the muslim “researchers” played alongside the Catholic “researchers” who gave Hugh Jackman his fantastic monster-fighting weapons in the Catholic religion-action-thriller VanHelsing *vomit*).
And that’s really where The Book of Eli (nice play on words for the title, huh?) was annoyingly short of what it could’ve been. Eli explained why he gave up the Book to save Solara as, “I got so caught up with keeping it safe that I forgot to live by what I learned from it, ‘do for others more than you do for yourself’.” OK…not bad, but not the first passage that came to my mind.
“Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13
Is it brave to say “Amen” in the heart of Sodom? You bet!
Was it worth the rental? You bet (I saved a few plot twists for you in case you haven’t seen it yet and would like to).
Is it a keeper? Eh…not so much.
* Karl Marx; “religion is the opiate of the masses” originates from the introduction of his 1843 work Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which was subsequently released one year later in Marx’s own journal Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, a collaboration with Arnold Ruge. Wikipedia.org