Three Stars – INSIGHTFUL
If taken as a video game, “The Book of Eli” doesn’t have to make sense in the real world. But to say that gamer and screenwriter Gary Whitta has only written a film-length video game, or that director Albert Hughes’ (The Dead Presidents) penchant for violence makes him a perfect partner in creating this film, is to miss some of the intriguing observations their partnership makes. It is true that Eli (Denzel Washington) is on a quest and he has gained an invincible strength and skill developed over thirty years as a “walker,” but his purpose is not to save a princess or discover a new level of challenge, but to complete a call of God on his life.
Pairing the fact that Denzel himself is a Christian and that it is the God of the Bible that has called his character on a spiritual quest is a blending of real life with fantasy. But to say that the quest of Eli is a Christian quest would be a stretch. The film acknowledges that Eli’s bloody trail demonstrates little love for one’s enemies, but that does not keep it from exploring various spiritual and social issues.
The setting is sometime in the future when a nuclear war has decimated humanity and collapsed society. Like the “Mad Max” films in which might makes right, there are few who were alive before the war and who even know how to read. Eli is one of those older ones. He is resilient and powerful, called by God and protected by him, vulnerable and yet invincible, at least to accomplish God’s ultimate purpose.
Since this quest is part of the intrigue of the film, we won’t spoil the plot’s intricacies, but we can discuss the ingredients. As in real life, Eli explains that God’s call is inward and yet definite. His young disciple, Solara (Mila Kunis), questions his sanity in making such a claim, but with clear conviction Eli knows he’s “not crazy.” In a secondary way, God continues to guide him in the fulfillment of his call. It is not that God once spoke and Eli is now following blindly in his God-chosen direction, but God continues to guide him. This is seen in his reluctant acceptance of Solara as a companion on his journey. When danger inevitably comes, Eli assures her that God has told him that both will survive.
The villain of the film is an egomaniacal older person named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) whose understanding of Christian faith was frozen at an immature age when the war took the opportunity to mature in his faith away from him. Superstitiously believing that he can use God’s power for evil, he attempts to take Eli’s power from him, but finds that “seeing, he cannot see”. The result of such arrogance is experienced not only by himself but also by the men who follow him in his schemes to expand his “kingdom”.
The conclusion of the film is a surprise that is also a truth in real life. The fact that we need to become God’s truth is something Eli experiences, for the history of all future human generations and for himself.
Though many will choose to not view the film because of its R-rated violence, it is a film that nevertheless will cause us to think. Although inverted by Carnegie and not fully understood by Eli, the Word of God is a powerful presence and strong foundation upon which a civilization can be rebuilt.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
- When Eli is attacked he responds with deadly force. Do you believe that is a Christian action? How do you support your belief?
- The society that Carnegie was creating was based on fear. He wanted to create a society in which he used religion as a part of that power. Do you experience religion as a presence of fear or love? Is there a difference between the religions? Is there a difference between the various expressions of the same religion?
- This film suggests that to rebuild a society that was torn apart by war, we need to create a library and teach the next generation. Do you believe this is the true foundation of civilized society? How is our dependency on electronic communication affecting this?