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Monday, January 25, 2010

Chris says that THE BOOK OF ELI should be seen by EVERYBODY professing to be Christian... and everyone else too!

(Proprietor's note: Before starting the review proper, I just gotta get this out of my system: The Book of Eli is the movie where Denzel Washington kicks the butt of local cult leader Johnny Robertson. Because Johnny Robertson is exactly the character that Gary Oldman is playing in this movie. I'm not the only one who's thinking this either. Okay, 'nuff with that. Back to the review...)

In some ways this is one of the harder movie reviews I've had to write, because The Book of Eli is a film that plays on two different levels and depending on where you're coming from it's either going to be just "pretty good" or "absolutely outstanding!"

Me? This was the second consecutive movie that I've seen with a post-apocalyptic setting. The first was The Road. Now, I loved The Road. But in terms of solid entertainment I thought that The Book of Eli was far better. And I will even say that as a story engendering thoughtfulness along with heaps of action, that I found The Book of Eli to be an even better film than Avatar.

Not only that: I would declare that The Book of Eli is the best R-rated Christian movie since The Passion of the Christ came out six years ago. But more about that later...

First I'm gonna talk about The Book of Eli as most people are probably approaching it and the way it's being billed: as an action flick. You can not think of a movie with Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman without considering the bloodfests and body counts (and there are plenty). People don't just die in pretty heinous ways in The Book of Eli: they're also left horribly wounded and with festering, gangrenous sores. This is the same type of world that The Road portrayed: with things like cannibalism run amok and a harsh deficit of goods left on the day after. But whereas we're never told what it was that destroyed civilization in The Road, it's clearly stated in The Book of Eli that this story takes place after a nuclear war punched a "hole in the sky". It's a wonderfully violent canvas and brother directors Albert and Allen Hughes play it to the hilt (mostly of Eli's very wicked knife).

Into this landscape strides Eli (Denzel Washington). He's a man on a mission: carrying something across the wasteland. The object in question happens to be a Bible: the last one known to exist. Seems that after the war a lot of people blamed the turmoil on religion, so Bibles and other sacred texts were rounded up and burned. Eli is "walking by faith" toward a destination even he isn't clear of, only that it's "west". But regardless of his own lack of understanding, he can and will kill to protect his charge.

Not long into the movie and Eli winds up in a ramshackle town (think Megaton from Fallout 3) run by obsessed bibliophile Carnegie (Gary Oldman). In exchange for providing clean water and other necessities of life, Carnegie has his people out looking for books. Problem is, by this point in history there is barely anyone left who's old enough to know how to read. Carnegie's gang of bikers keeps bringing him trash like The Da Vinci Code when what he really wants is... yup, you guessed it... a copy of the Bible. In due time Carnegie discovers that Eli – who only came to town because he needed a recharge of his iPod's battery (don't laugh, it makes sense) – is in possession of that what he seeks most, and the chase is on.

If I could possibly do it, I would gladly buy a ticket for every preacher, pastor and evangelist in America to see The Book of Eli while it's playing in theaters. And if they didn’t want to see it, I would tie them to the seat and force them to watch it like that that guy in A Clockwork Orange played by Malcolm McDowell (who also appears in The Book of Eli). As a follower of Christ, what I appreciated most about this movie is that better than any other film that I can think of, The Book of Eli is a narrative examination of the Holy Bible and how those who call themselves "Christian" invariably choose to either understand it or exploit it.

Two men. Each with their own desire for the Bible. For Carnegie, it's all about the power. He lusts for the Bible because within its pages he knows there are words to drive and motivate his people toward something bigger and mightier than what he has now. Out of all the hundreds in his town, Carnegie is the only one who can read the printed word. Were he to acquire the Bible, it will be entirely at his discretion what his people will hear from within it. They will cling upon his every spoken utterance because no doubt they will believe that he has been chosen of God. That just as Carnegie brings them water to drink, so too will he and he alone bring them the water of the Word.

Sounds like damn too many people in our real world, doesn't it?

And then there is Eli. The one who has the Bible. He has read from its pages each day for more than thirty years. Of all the people left in what was once the world, Eli is perhaps the only one who begins each meal with a prayer. That alone screams volumes about the fundamental difference between Carnegie and Eli. Oh, Carnegie certainly knows what a mealtime prayer of thankfulness is... but he doesn't care for what it signifies. Carnegie is the man who has and wants more, while Eli is thankful for what meager blessings he has been given. Eli is not motivated by the power he carries toward any selfish end, but that doesn't mean he can't understand its true potential. He knows that what he carries is not meant for one person, but for all people.

I'll let you decide in the end which one comes out the better. But while watching this movie, I couldn't help but think of the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 8:18...

"...Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him."
That is the ultimate parable of The Book of Eli, in my mind. That one can choose to cling as hard as one can to worldly power and affluence. Or one can choose to live "not by sight but by faith". One may lead to comfort, but it is only for a season. The one who can overcome the ways of the world and can even sacrifice self stands to gain something far greater...

...and no amount of claiming the Bible can change any of that. One can choose to wield the Word of God as a weapon, or one can choose to use the Word of God for His sake.

The references to scripture comes fast and hard in The Book of Eli, but never does the film seem to demand having a Bible or concordance handy in order to appreciate it. I'm not sure what kind of background scribe Gary Whitta is coming from, but the dude has crafted a story that, in my mind anyway, stands as an amazing testimony of what Paul wrote about in 1st Corinthians 9:22: "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."

That's what The Book of Eli represents to me: a witness for God in a language that a lot of people will enjoy being tuned into as opposed to listening to tired old sermons or being accosted on the street or at their own homes by "the faithful". It's a very Christian movie with a bad-ass 'tude... and I can't really see anything necessarily wrong with that.

Mila Kunis turns in a great performance as Solara, the daughter of Carnegie's blind wife Claudia (played by Jennifer Beals). Also look for Tom Waits, Ray Stevenson (who won wide acclaim for his portrayal of Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome) and a particularly eccentric couple played by Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon (who is most recently known for playing Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies). In addition to the performances, I also have to praise the gorgeous cinematography of Don Burgess (who, I am told, shot The Book of Eli with the RED ONE digital camera). Atticus Ross composed a fine score for the film: I'm gonna be looking for it at the local big-box entertainment store or on iTunes.

I'll give The Book of Eli my highest recommendation for a film. There's something here for just about everyone, including a jaw-dropper of a plot twist that I dare not intimate about at all. Can't wait to buy this on Blu-ray when it comes out!


Danny de Gracia II said...

Very enlightening review, I'll definitely have to see it for sure. Thanks as always for being the razor's edge!

Anonymous said...

Carnegie = Johnny Robertson and Ray Stevenson's character = James Oldfield.

I imagine most people in Henry and Rockingham Counties will see this movie and think that too.

Keep hammering the cult hard!

Anonymous said...

Interesting . . . . Eli carries a book with the prominent words Thou Shalt Not Kill in its pages, but if he will "kill" to complete his mission those words must not be written in the place where God's Word really matters.

When God's Word is written on our hearts, then The Book has done its job. Once it happens, you can burn all the Bibles you want to, and you can never destroy God's Word. Billy Sunday put this best . . . "Don't say you know the Bible. To the contrary, the Bible knows more about you than you than you could ever know about it!"

This sounds like a movie that is very irrelevant to matters of faith. I'll keep an open mind about whether or not it's a good film, but you've told me enough to know I shouldn't bring my Bible if I want to be entertained by it.

Ol' You-Know Who

Chris Knight said...

Ol' You-Know Who,

In a very interesting way, you have answered your own questions about this movie.

All I'll say is: watch it for yourself. There's plenty that I haven't said about it in this review. And I would definitely be interested to hear your thoughts about it.