Movie Review: The Book of Eli
I saw The Book of Eli on Sunday, and enjoyed it. However, I wasn’t planning on reviewing it officially until I read this story, that requires an FJM-style takedown. I will have a go at that after the jump, as there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS.
The gist of the movie’s story is this: Eli is a wanderer, with a mandate from God to go west with ‘The Book’, which is the last King James bible on the planet, apparently. It’s a post-apocalyptic world, after a war that seems nuclear and also ‘burned holes in the sky’. Eli himself is a certified badass, killing thugs and bandits with knives and guns. It’s no surprise that most nerds (like me) compare him to our Fallout 3 characters. It’s not the best movie I’ve seen or anything, but I enjoyed it, and I didn’t catch on to the big twist until the end.
However, our opinion piece writer up there, she has some other problems with the movie, or at least I think she does, as what she writes doesn’t always seem to be related to the movie I saw.
Denzel as Christian crusader? Only in Hollywood.
Uh, why not? It’s a fictional movie.
Yes, to hear some people tell it, the machete-wielding, steel-toed, grenade-throwing “missionary” Denzel plays in “The Book of Eli” is allegedly a flag-bearer for the Christian right.
If Eli lived next door to me, and spread the word of God by eviscerating evil-doers on my suburban street, there’d be a point here…but he doesn’t. He lives in a wasteland, populated by thieves, rapists, murderers, all without any sort of law or government. Also, one of the things Eli learns in the end is about this, that he was not living by the book the way he should’ve, he focused too much on the task.
The New York Post‘s Kyle Smith wrote, “Hollywood’s Christian blockbuster is finally here”; he calls “Eli” “not only a well-done action picture, but an overtly, unabashedly Christian one in which Washington plays a soldier of God.”
He’s not alone. Ain’t It Cool News, still one of the go-to sites for fanboys,
Nice dig slipped in there. Hack. (see, I can do it too!)
says, “The film is about faith, about the desire to make the world a better place.” Popmatters.com offers, “Christians should be lining up to embrace the Hughes brothers’ brave vision.”
But all this says far more about the critics’ -and Hollywood’s – deep misunderstanding of Christianity than it does about the movie itself. By any reasonable measure, the brand of Christianity on display in “Eli” is as warped as they come (spoilers ahead).
Well, yeah – it’s not the Christianity of our world, but of a fictional, what might’ve been type scenario involve the planet getting nuked to hell and back. I don’t see why a Christian of our world wouldn’t be able to find some value in the story, while still trying to remember that instead of just beheading that crook, you should call the cops.
In the film, Eli (played by Washington) has survived a nuclear holocaust he calls “the war,” and is called to travel west with “The Book” – the last remaining copy of the King James Bible – defending it from his nemesis, the crooked and corrupt Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman).
Carnegie only wants “The Book” to dupe his water-starved, people-eating underlings into thinking he’s an all-powerful messiah. Eli – I guess this is the “Christian” part – wants “The Book” because he knows it can be used for good. How does Eli defend the Good Book? By doing all kinds of bad. He goes marauding through the California wasteland beheading, stabbing, shooting and head-butting anyone who gets in his way.
Hey, I don’t remember him head-butting anyone.
Never mind the bizarre pretext that a nuclear holocaust would wipe out all knowledge of religion and God, save for two crusty old-timers. And never mind that more than once the characters allude to “The Book” as the cause of “the war.” Or that Eli is specifically protecting a King James Bible, the version most secularists use as a proxy for fanatical fundamentalism.
It didn’t wipe out knowledge of religion and God, now, not many of the people we meet have deep knowledge, but I never felt there was zero knowledge. Carnegie himself seems to know the gist, but just doesn’t have the words. As far as it being the King James version, I figured the filmmakers just wanted the flower prose from the KJV.
The real problem with “Eli” is that, like just about every other attempt to be honest about Christianity by Hollywood, this is merely another lame attempt at painting the Christian right as a violent, fundamentalist fringe.
Eli, our hero, is a Hollywood caricature. He kills dozens of dirt-painted miscreants who get in his way, ruthlessly and seemingly without any of the pangs of guilt one would expect from a God-fearing Christian. His march toward salvation is supposed to recall the bloody crusades – and he leaves enough of his enemies headless to prove it.
Carnegie steps in as the other fundamentalist stereotype – the cheap televangelist whose only interests are power and profits.
Pitting Carnegie against Eli, then, reduces Christians to Jimmy Swaggarts and Scott Roeders – either duplicitous frauds or true-believer assassins. There is nothing in between.
I don’t see this as painting whole swaths of people as anything – it’s one dude against another. Those ‘dirt-painted miscreants’ would’ve killed Eli 30 years ago had he not defended himself. Like I said, he came to realize he should be doing things differently in the end, I guess you can’t have a flawed, human hero any more.
I suppose because Eli is good-looking, and Carnegie is pockmarked, Eli is supposed to be the hero in this offensive passion play. “Stay on the path,” he tells himself. Dude, even Jesus had time to help out a leper or a prostitute now and then.
Pockmarked, ouch. Sorry Sirius Black, I guess they didn’t rough up Denzel enough. Eli has a task he’s trying to accomplish, and in general it is safer for him to travel alone and avoid contact with others as much as possible.
But the biggest insult is that no one tells Eli – or he doesn’t figure out himself – that he’s got options besides violence. For one, everyone knows the power of the Bible isn’t in the pages themselves, but in the words. How about writing a copy? Hole up in one of those burned-out cars you pass, and transcribe “The Book” so there’s more than one. Or how about telling someone about it?
Does he have other options? It’s a violent world for him now. There are some logistical problems with the suggestion: can he get 1000 sheets of paper just like that? pens/pencils? can someone who has been blind for years even write legibly? I have no idea. Actually, that last part (the blindness) makes me think Copp didn’t even watch the movie.
Most Christians these days spread their faith through proselytizing and good works, not psychopathic limb severing. So why doesn’t Eli try giving a sermon or two, or open up a soup kitchen (or, in this case, a cat-meat kitchen)?
Most Christians these days can go home to a nice warm bed, fridges and shelves full of food, police protection minutes away, and so on. Sermons are good, but one bandit with a bullet could take out the last ‘copy’ of the Bible in the world. Not a risk he was willing to take. And a soup kitchen? Seriously, he could barely get enough food for himself.
If Eli were Muslim, lopping off heads to protect the last copy of the Koran (which makes a startling appearance in the third act of “Eli,” by the way), I’m certain Muslim-Americans would be alarmed that its defender acted more like a murderous jihadist than a humble servant of God. I guess when it comes to Hollywood, Christians have to keep praying for the same kind of respect.
How is the Koran appearing on a library shelf with other religious texts ‘startling’, exactly? Eli was Christian because the target audience could more readily identify with Christianity. How many Americans (even atheists) would recognize quotes from the Koran, or another text, the way they would from the Bible?
I’m not sure why this spurred such a response from me. It’s not like I’m ranking this best ever, just that it’s not what this writer seems to think it is. Anyway, see the movie and make your own judgements.