The Book of Eli takes us to a painful place — a place where humanity loses its humanness. We enter into in a gritty world devoid of either protection from the elements of nature or a government. The ugly get uglier and humanity splits into the hunters and the hunted. Violence? But of course. It could be no other way.
The movie is set in a future decimated by a war that occurred at least 30 years earlier. There are nuclear suggestions from the brown landscape and the burn scars and blindness that many suffer from. Regardless of the reason or cause of the war, even the sun now seems to plot against the earth which is dying under its harsh glare. The moral fallout is even harsher because unlike the natural world, humans had a choice.
The violence is disturbing but necessary. It has a deeper purpose of exposing humanity without a soul. Even in this desolate land, however, not everyone has lost his soul. Eli, played by Denzel Washington, has maintained both his physical and moral strength. At times he does kill but it is for self-protection and to continue on the mission he believes God has sent him on.
On a Mission from God
Eli possesses what is believed to be the last Bible in existence. An inner voice, which he believes to be God, tells him to take his Bible and go West, although he knows not why or the specifics of his destination. The Book, which he reads daily, gives him strength and a determination to complete this mission.
Eli has been traveling on foot for years and is nearing the end of his mission. It is at this point that his greatest obstacle is yet to come in the person of Carnegie, (Gary Oldman) who, like Eli, is a survivor from "the time before." Both are burdened with the memory of a more civilized time. Carnegie has carved out an empire of sorts with himself as a dictator, maintaining order through an army of gruesome thugs. Although Carnegie is small and weak himself, his power comes through control of a secret underwater spring — the only fresh water source in those parts. Carnegie’s own thirst cannot be quenched, however. He longs for a book, a special book in which his men have not been able to find for him.
Eli enters this town in hopes of bartering for services to get a battery recharged. Without a government, there is no money system. Instead, luxuries from the past, such as shampoo or lighters, have become highly desired commodities. As Eli puts it: "Now people kill each other for things they once threw away,"
Discovery of the Book
There is an aura of calm and assurance about this outsider that intrigues Carnegie. It makes him wonder if perhaps Eli might possess the Book. He puts Eli up for the night and sends his blind, common-law wife, Claudia (Jennifer Beal), in to see that he is comfortable. She too is intrigued by this man but discovers nothing about a book. Carnegie then forces his beautiful step-daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), to offer to sleep with Eli and find out if he has the Book. Solara agrees only because Carnegie has threatened to hurt her mother if she does not. Eli has no desire to take advantage of Solara, but allows her to stay the night so that Carnegie will not extract his revenge. Eli shares his meal with Solara but first teaches her to pray in thanksgiving before they eat. Prayer is completely foreign to Solara but it touches her soul. The next morning, Carnegie observes Solara teaching her mother to pray before they eat. It is at this point that Carnegie becomes certain that Eli must possess the Book– the Bible. Under pressure, Selena reluctantly admits that Eli does have a book but since no one born after the war knows how to read, she does not know if it is the Bible. When Carnegie demands that she tell him what it looked like, she shapes her forefingers into the shape of a cross.
Thus begins Eli’s greatest test. Carnegie is used to getting what he wants and he wants that Bible. He does not want the Bible to destroy it; he truly desires it. Carnegie simply does not understand what power is about — believing power equals control of humanity. In contrast, Eli sees the Book as powerful in a way that will bring humanity the hope upon which it can rebuild a civilization.
It becomes a battle of the wills, which Eli prefers not to fight: "I don’t plan on staying," he says "I got someplace I need to be." Solara wants to travel the journey that Eli is on, so against his wishes, she follows him. Now, the stakes could not be higher, Eli has both the book and Solara with him.
Carnegie and his thugs go in search of Eli with an arsenal of weapons and 3 makeshift tanks pieced together with old car and truck parts. Eli and Solara eventually hole up in the quaint home of a survivalist couple. It is at this point where in the midst of intense moments a bit of levity is injected. The seemingly sweet couple transform into warriors when Carnegie and his troops show up.
At it’s bloodiest moment, Solara looks around in horror, steps out and yells "Stop!" But alas, Carnegie gets Solara into a choke hold and threatens to kill her. She had become like a daughter to him; drawn to his vision of something deeper. Until then, nothing could deter Eli from his mission. Now, he must choose between life and the Book and ultimately comes to understand its deeper meaning.
Message of Hope
It is here that the quest seems to halt in a way that is unrecoverable. The journey continues, however and takes us down a different path than we expected, back into a world of hope. Not until the very end, do we suddenly see something we had missed completely. It is one of those moments that will cause people to want to watch the movie all over again through different eyes.
The Book of Eli is a movie that promotes Christian values. Through Eli, comes the message that the Bible is powerful and that one should allow God to direct our lives. Given that the movie is intense and rated "R" for violence and language, it will attract a different crowd than the typical wholesome family films. This is actually a good thing in a way. It means that The Book of Eli will not be preaching to the choir. It will appeal to audiences not necessarily looking for a faith-based message but more likely going for action-packed entertainment. They will leave the theater having received both.
Alcon Entertainment’s action adventure film The book of Eli is a Warner Bros. Pictures release that will be in theaters Jan. 15.