The Scoop: 2010 R, directed by the Hughes Brothers and starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis
Tagline: Some will kill to have it. He will kill to protect it.
Summary Capsule: A lone warrior treks west to safeguard a priceless book.
Justin’s Rating: For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:6)
Justin’s Review: It’s no new thing to say that Hollywood has absolutely no idea what to do with religion and faith in movies. In a town that’s centered on hedonism, superficiality and the cult of the celeb, the stronger yet more subtle currents of belief, of God, and of scripture throws movie-makers into a tizzy. What to do with it? You can vilify it (religion as the bad oppressive force), you can mock it (religion is for the weak), you can stereotype it (the priest who lost his faith or the fundamental fanatic), you can water it down until it’s non-threatening (just believe in something, anything, even yourself), or you can look at it as if its a rare specimen in a zoo, far removed from normal life (the “others”). What they have a terrifically hard time doing is to portray it as something that’s a normal part of life for many folks and not get afraid that by focusing on any one religion they’re going to offend all the others.
It’s exceedingly rare these days to see a faith-themed film that isn’t annoyingly preachy, stereotypical to the point of being tacky, or vague enough to be nothing at all. It’s even more rare when that movie is pretty entertaining for most everyone, believers or not. In this, The Book of Eli hits the sweet spot of combining multiple genres (western, post-apocalyptic, action, religious) while being thought-provoking at the same time.
In the movie, Eli (Denzel Washington) is a solitary man traveling the wastes of the world with a peculiar mission: to bring a rare book to the west. He’s been on this quest for 30-odd years now, which made me wonder just how slow he’s been going (how long would it take you to cross the North American continent on foot?). The world’s been thrashed by nuclear war and a scorching sun, although humanity is still clinging to various Old West-style outposts.
So here comes Eli, la de da, strolling just as casual as he could be. He’s one of those supernatural fighters that’s all the rage in action movies these days, flipping his machete, pistol and shotgun around to kill seven guys before you can blink. He’s never visibly afraid, he’s never deterred from his path, and he’s supremely confident in his mission.
As the Blues Brothers would say, he’s on a mission from God.
I won’t exactly spoil what he’s carrying, but while the movie doesn’t throw it in your face up front, it isn’t really hiding it either. Eli is protecting the remnant of a religion almost lost to the world, and through that mission he’s become a missionary of sorts. Someone remarked that there’s more line-for-line biblical scripture in The Book of Eli than many so-called “Christian” flicks, and yet it never comes across as hokey. It’s sincere, because it comes from a character who is learning to incorporate it into his daily walk.
There’s just a lot to love about this movie, mostly because The Hughes Brothers (From Hell) trust the audience to figure things out and piece the story together without shoving it down their throats. I deeply appreciate that. I appreciate how much of it made you think, how the story shows how religion can be used for selflessness as well as for domination, and how precious and powerful ideas and words can be to those who lack them.
The post-apocalyptic landscape and swift-but-sweet action sequences are almost icing on the cake after all of that, but I’m not complaining! You see echoes of Clint Eastwood, Mad Max and even last year’s The Road in several of the scenes, but the setting and action is there to provide heft to the story, not be the story itself.
Anyway, as stunned as I am that such a pro-faith movie could come out of Hollywood and be this entertaining, I’ll take it without complaints. More, please!
- In every action scene, there is a cross or other religious artifact in the picture. For instance, a bridge with 14’7″ clearance is a reference to a biblical speech about slaying those who are against you.
- Unfortunately for Whitta, the studio continuously asked him to tone down the religious aspects of his script to the point that he no longer felt comfortable with the film he was making and was, ultimately, replaced with a different writer. Thankfully, Denzel Washington, who was attracted to the project for those very elements, came to Whitta’s rescue and demanded that he be brought back aboard, allowing him to see the script through to the very final stage.
- Denzel Washington performed all of his own stunts in the hand-to-hand fight sequences.
- In Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic, Eli can be a variant on the name of God. The suffix “i” indicates first person singular possession, i.e., “my El” or “my God”.
- On the wall of the cell in which Eli is imprisoned is a poster for the movie A Boy and His Dog, which also took place in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
- The reason the cannibals’ hands shake is because they suffer from Prion disease, something rarely mentioned in movies involving cannibalism.
Eli: Stay on the path. It’s not your concern. Stay on the path. It’s not your concern.
Hijack Leader: [cradling wrist where Eli has severed his hand] What are you standing around for? Kiss him!
Hijacker: What’d he say?
Eli: He’s in shock. I think he meant “Kill Him.”
Eli: People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn’t. We threw away things people kill each other for now.
Eli: In all these years I’ve been carrying it and reading it every day, I got so caught up in keeping it safe that I forgot to live by what I learned from it.
Carnegie: I grew up with that book, I know its power.
Solara: They killed all these people.
Eli: Not just kill them, they ate them.
Solara: Her hands, her hands were shaking.
Eli: Too much human meat. Let’s go.
Eli: It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s faith, it’s faith. It’s the flower of light in the field of darkness that’s giving me the strength to carry on. You understand?
Solara: Is that from your book?
Eli: No, it’s, uh, Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom Prison.
Carnegie: [Carnegie inspects the book] Ask and you shall receive. God is good, is he not?
Eli: All the time.
Carnegie: Not all the time.
Eli: [Eli slams his head on the table] I know who you are. Murderer of innocent travelers on the road. You’re gonna be held to account for the things you’ve done, do you know that? Do you?
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