Film Review: The Book of Eli

17/01/10 | Posted by MattPage

Ever wondered what would happen to the Bible in a post-apocalyptic age? Denzel Washington clearly has, not only starring in The Book of Eli, but putting up much of the funding as well.

The story is set thirty plus in the future, but we’re never told when or what, exactly happened. There was a war, a flash, and now all that remains is a tiny fraction of the population and a landscape strewn with human and mechanical wreckage. Travelling through what remains of the world is Eli (Washington) who, unbeknownst to anyone, is carrying the last remaining copy of the Bible.   

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 Eli (Denzel Washington): a man on a mission

Jesus once said “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”, and yet somehow this world now teeters in the brink. Jesus words are largely unknown – the only other person to even know about the Bible wants to use it as a weapon to control the weak and powerless.

It’s an improbable scenario of course. The Bible is far too ingrained in our culture to disappear in just a few decades, even if there had been a deliberate attempt to destroy all copies. But then this is not a film that really attempts to create a real world. Those who are distracted by gaping plot holes or heroes with superhuman fighting powers should probably stay away. Book of Eli is more of a fable, sketching out its story in bold, exaggerated fashion in order to make its point more forcefully. Visually, it lands somewhere between Mad Max and Lawrence of Arabia - enormous, barren, landscape shimmer in the background whilst the grimy remains of humanity scrap for survival around the edges of their fallen civilisation. Perhaps this is a bad dream, or another world.

Unfortunately once you put aside the striking images, the enormous plot holes and the surprisingly effective computer-game violence, there’s not much left. The film does everything it can to build a solid platform from which to say something profound about the Bible, but ultimately struggles for something to actually say. The Bible’s clearly meant to be important, but all Eli can say to summarise it is “Do more for others than yourself” - a variation on Jesus’ “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”. Eli may read it every day himself, but there’s nothing to suggest he’s ever considered it worth passing onto anyone, and Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek has clearly passed Eli by. And his climatic arrival at his long-awaited destination does little to solve this problem either.

Those who read the Bible often find an unusual mix. Parts of it are highly polished and meticulous written and rewritten, but in other places it’s raw, gritty and incredibly down to earth. In contrast, whilst Book of Eli’s dreamy, sepia-tinged images follow in the traditions of the former, there’s little of the everyday reality that helps us relate the Bible to our every-day lives.

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Somehow I missed this movie when it came out. It seems like it would be very interesting and not just because it is Denzel. (I am a big fan of his acting.) I agree with you that it is hard to believe that the bible could be completely forgotten in a few decades, but as you warned, there are some inconsistencies in the plot. I will make sure to go at it with an open mind and give this movie a shot.

#1. By Houston Divorce Lawyer on October 12, 2010

the point is not if it is hard to imaging the bible disappearing in a few decades or not, because we can’t imagine a post-apocalyptic world!
If we would have an apocalypse (nuclear); Far worse and more destructive that the past W-wars combined… And it being caused by religion & the differences between religions. Maybe IF the horible acts in WW II never happened (holocaust)
And some one would make a movie about 1 dictator conquering half the world and nearly killing 9million jewish ppl.
We would say what a horrible movie, nothing like that could possibly happen in “the real world”
WW2: 5 yrs, 9million, 75%
Book of Eli: 30 yrs ....

#2. By mysteryliner on July 16, 2011

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