Book of Eli
A bleak and very grim future awaits mankind in the Book of Eli. A future no more bleak however than the time one will spend watching it.
Denzel Washington plays Eli, a lone traveler, resolute and driven by a spiritual quest. He is heading west in a post apocalyptic world across the war torn and ravaged harsh land inhabited by even harsher people. Passing through a town, the despot who rules the town - Carnegie (Gary Oldman ) discovers that Eli carries the one thing Carnegie seeks most, a very rare book. The Bible - the only remaining copy left in the world. What Carnegie seeks to possess for his own dark purposes, Eli refuses to yield, for he has a been given a special duty regarding this Bible.
Eli is the chosen one - that familiar figure who has been selected to complete a task and has obstacles to overcome and friends to help him along the way and a mentor to guide him. Chosen by God, Eli has a touch of invincibility about him - bullets miss him, he moves with great speed, he cannot lose a fight. And he wields a mean and really big knife. Escaping from the village he is joined by Carnegie’s step daughter, Solara (Mila Klunis). The pair head west followed by Carnegie and his gang of road warriors – men with big guns and small brains.
Where the movie fails most is in expressing the key elements of the theme of the Chosen One. We are never given to understand in what way the world will change when Eli completes his quest.
Although it is never made clear, it appears that the world was destroyed by a war that many believe to have been caused by religion. We are left feeling oddly skeptical that the plans proposed by both Eli and Carnegie are flawed. Both believe that the words and instruction provided by the Bible will be the salvation the human race needs. Carnegie believes he can use it to shepherd the weak minded and go on to govern larger and larger communities and build more cities, as people will come to hear what he plans to make his word. What Eli intends to do is more mysterious and even less convincing. He does what he does because of a voice he heard that set him on his way 30 years ago. Ultimately, the film does not give us enough background to really believe or understand the motivation of the characters or whether possession of the Bible will help them fulfill their aims. Unfortunately, we are left with fine actors playing very poorly developed characters. We don’t really feel anything for either Eli or Carnegie. We aren’t even really able to like Eli as he appears so mechanical and vacant. Nor are we able to believe that a bond could exist between Solara and Eli. The wonderful Gary Oldman sadly plays as hollow and vacant a villain as one can remember. How regrettable that all the characters remain hollow without any development.
There is a twist at the end that, that when it comes it’s so unbelievable you wonder if it’s really a twist at all.
Stylistically the Hughes Brothers have the confidence to deal with long periods of silence that are found throughout the film, but with neither dialog nor interesting character moments these silent scenes just make the film drag. What we do have are visually impressive landscapes. The look of the film is much like most recent post-apocalyptic movies - grey shades of sky and land, and rust colored palettes. But even the beauty of the shots are not enough to enliven the silence.
Throughout the film, I kept thinking about how I might come to understand more of what the film is trying to say about our desire for religion and what help religion can offer humanity in times of such horrific destruction.
What does Carnegie’s desire to control humanity and Eli’s desire to save humanity tell us how humans can be controlled or saved by religion? How much would society lose if we lost all the holy books of all religions? I looked not for answers but rather for views or new perspectives, or even the filmmakers’ statement about some matter of relevance. Despite my attempts I was unable to glean anything interesting about religion from a movie who’s main plot focuses around a Bible. Amen?