Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Book Of Eli

Okay, let's take a break from politics for a moment. A non-politics blog post I've wanted to do for a long time is a review of the movie The Book of Eli.

First off, if you're the type to avoid spoilers, stop reading now. This movie has been out for almost a year, so if you haven't seen it by now, you're not likely to do so...unless you suddenly find a compelling reason. So, in the interest of, well, sparking interest, I'm going to share a bunch of spoilers. You've been warned.

Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis, this story is set in a post-apocalyptic future thirty years from now. Brutality and bare subsistence is the order of the day, and humanity has largely been reduced to a violent and meager lot trying to eek out a miserable existence in a washed-out and barren world, with few old enough to remember what it was like before the bombs went off. One of those is Eli (played by Washington), a wanderer who carries with him a book -- the Bible -- and a single directive from God: to protect the book and go West.

Along the way, he meets a ruthless thug named Carnegie (Oldman) who more or less runs a town by virtue of his control of the water supply. He, too, is old enough to remember the world before the bombs, and knows the power that resides in 'the book'. Unlike Eli, however, his motivation is purely selfish, and he lusts for the book only as a means to control the people. Copies of the book are essentially non-existent, however, and a throwaway line in the movie explains that survivors blamed the bombs on the book, so all copies were burned years ago. When Carnegie hears that Eli carries the book, he will stop at nothing to trade for or steal it.

One of his attempts to get the book is by forcing a girl in his employ
named Solara (Kunis) to try to seduce Eli. Eli gently turns her down, and instead shows her how to pray. This is the first time we really see the stark difference between Eli and the rest of the world. Eli, of course, refuses to be taken in by Carnegie's schemes, and moves on from the town. Solara follows him to enlist his help, and it's not long before Eli saves Solara from roadside thugs. Carnegie, too, is pursuing Eli, all pretenses at negotiation for the book gone. On the run, Eli defends himself and Solara against Carnegie's forces while teaching Solara a completely different outlook on life, relationships, and the world, all based on what he'd learned from the book. Eli seems to be protected from on high, avoiding attack after attack, bullet after bullet, burning through Carnegie's henchmen at a startling rate and almost inerrant in his own fighting technique. Carnegie isn't so lucky, however, and gets shot in one of the melees. Not surprisingly given the state of the world, his wound becomes infected.

Eventually, Carnegie's brutality and obsession overcomes Eli's defenses, as Eli is shot and left for dead, and both Solara and the book fall into Carnegie's hands. Solara escapes and comes back for Eli, only to find that he is staggering onward (to the West) despite his injury. When questioned by Solara, Eli explained that he'd spent so many years protecting the book that he forgot to live by what it said. He'd been given a message by God, and he would follow it to the end while trusting God to hold him up along the way.

Carnegie lets them go, exultant with finally owning the book he had sought for so long, only to find out that the book that Eli had guarded so fiercely was written in Braille, and completely useless to Carnegie. As this realization dawns, he is overcome by his infected wound, and as he becomes weaker and weaker, he realizes that his pursuit of Eli and the book has reduced his henchmen -- and thus his power and influence -- to such an extent that he is vulnerable to a revolting citizenry. Justice is served.

In the meantime, Eli and Solara find their way to the West Coast, and San Francisco. There they find a pocket of civilized people, struggling to rebuild human society and rise out of the morass that mired the rest of the world. They had just completed the construction of the first post-apocalypse printing press and were trying to collect works of literature and religion for printing and distribution. After traveling West for years with nothing for companionship but the Bible, Eli has the whole thing memorized and dictates it for the printer shortly before he dies. Thus, the Bible takes a prominent place in the new birthplace of human education and learning. Eli's mission is complete.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, nor the flimsy of stomach. Several parts are pretty graphically brutal, and many others strongly imply behavior that any normal person would find beyond repugnant. However, I believe the brilliance of this movie is that these characteristics are peripheral, and used primarily to amplify the core message of the story: faith in God's ability to provide and protect, if we would only trust in Him.

If you look at the Bible (and, for that matter, at history), you'll see over and over that God's awesomeness, faithfulness, and power are most on display when humanity is at its worst. Time after time, the Israelites turned away from God, but God never turned away from them. Jesus Christ was brutally punished, tortured, and executed for the crime of being the only perfect man to walk the Earth, and the Son of God. Saul, a ruthless antagonist to early Christians, converted to the second most prominent figure in the New Testament, and is largely responsible for spreading Christianity to the Gentiles. The list of examples is vast, and continues with relatively contemporary examples like Victor Frankl in the Nazi extermination camps, missionaries serving the primitive tribes who killed their relatives, and so on. There is nothing that humanity can do that is so evil that God cannot transform it into beauty and redemption. This movie illustrates that idea incredibly well.

No doubt some will say that such violence and vicious conflict isn't necessary to illustrate God's love for humanity, and that's probably true. But think about every impactful and emotional story you've ever heard, seen or read - didn't it include a generous amount of antagonism before the triumphant conclusion? What good is any story without conflict? B.O.R.I.N.G. Conflict is required, and the bigger the conflict the more satisfying the victory. It's storytelling at its core, and this particular story is a diamond.

Not understanding why, and not knowing his destination, Eli nevertheless forged ahead on faith, even when the book was no longer in his hands. His is a story of faith in God, and one that illustrated just how capable God was of fulfilling his promise of protection and providence. There were plenty of trials and grievous wounds to Eli along the way, and he could have bailed at any point during those difficulties, but he didn't. Because of his faith, God remained steadfast to Eli through it all, and all of humanity would be blessed because of it. I think this is a lesson that most of us could take to heart in our own lives.

Some movies try to be somewhat circumspect in their treatment of Christian values. The Chronicles of Narnia movies are obvious references to Christianity...for Christians. But I think that it's very possible for non-believers to completely miss the secondary meanings of so much in there. Not so with The Book of Eli. The Christian message is overt, Scripture is commonplace, and I don't see how it could be mistaken. I was genuinely shocked at the fact that this movie ever came out of Hollywood.

So, is this a good movie? No. It's a great movie. It's got action, heroism, a vile villain, thought-provoking emotion, and a walloping good message. Is this a movie for everyone? Absolutely not (under no circumstances should children be allowed to watch this!). But if you can get past the objectionable stuff, this one is well worth watching.

For a first-hand look, here's the official trailer:

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