January 17, 2010
The Surprising Book of Eli
The previews give little hint that the newly opened Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington and directed by the brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, is the most explicitly Christian action film since Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.
On the surface, Book of Eli shares much in common with "The Road," a recent film that closely tracks with the Cormac McCarthy novel on which it is based. Both are set in a lifeless, post-apocalyptic America in which a uniquely principled protagonist wanders the landscape hoping to find his way to the coast and potential new life. Both, by the way, make a good case for gun ownership.
Of the two, "The Road" is the more coherent and realistic. The "Book of Eli" is the more violent and entertaining. It is, however, smart in a way that its predictably mocking critics have failed to notice.
Its protagonist, Eli, carries with him the last remaining copy of the Bible. Although an imperfect Christian, as he readily admits, Eli is driven to share it with people who will appreciate it. He does so not because they need solace in a desperate time, but because of Eli's explicit understanding that civilization can be successfully rebuilt only on the foundation of Judeo-Christian values.
The movies antagonist, Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman, desperately seeks the Bible as well for exactly the same reason. A bibliophile in an illiterate age, Carnegie is seen in his first appearance reading a biography of Musssolini. He runs his thuggish, Mad Max-ish empire much as Mussolini might have, but he senses the inadequacy of his own model.
In watching the film progress, the viewer keeps expecting the directors to subvert what seems to be the film's transparently pro-Christian message, but they never do. They reinforce it, make it more explicit, more hopeful, albeit amidst a whole lot of spectacular butt-kicking.
The 30-something Hughes brothers, who are black as is star Denzel Washington, offer their audience a worldview much more hopeful and historically sound than the one James Cameron has been serving up in the mindless Avatar, with which Book of Eli dueled for top box office spot over the weekend.