When my husband and I go to the movies, we usually comment to each other about each preview. “Too intense,” I whispered when The Book of Eli crossed the screen, although he had already read my mind. It did not seem to be my brand of entertainment. Ironically, just a few days later, I was offered the chance to go to Los Angeles to screen this movie and to also interview Denzel Washington and others involved in the film.
It was not my usual fare but I knew that Grace Hill Media was promoting this film. They are a marketing company that only promotes quality entertainment. So I went trusting there would be reasons to like The Book of Eli. Indeed, there were.
A Deeper Story
The movie takes place in the future after an apocalyptic war. Eli, (Denzel Washington) possesses the last Bible still in existence. God speaks to him and tells him to go West. Denzel is not sure why or the specifics of where, but he follows God’s direction. He believes that the Bible has the power to redeem and renew the remnants of society. Thus, he guards the Book cautiously and is undeterred in his travels. The movie begins towards the end of his 30-year journey. It is then, that Eli’s true test begins.
The movie is an action adventure story, but what I liked about it was that it told a deeper story–the one about human nature and the power of God’s word. Through the commitment and faith of Eli it also had something to say about sacrifice and love.
Albert Hughes, who directed the movie along with his brother Allen, said, “The Book of Eli takes us to a future that is decimated. The devastation is total and that allowed us to speculate about how the world would look and how people would manage if the whole grid was wiped out and we were thrown back into a primitive way of life.” He guessed that there would be a lot of lawlessness, but, in time, there would be a few brave individuals who would regain a sense of purpose and leadership. Eli is such a man. Hughes explained, “The movie is not about the Bible, but about how one man took the Bible.”
The moment he read the script, Hughes said he never questioned doing the movie and that it had to be the Bible that Eli was protecting. “It’s not just a book, it’s a weapon,” Hughes said. “It’s the Bible man!”
Eli is portrayed by Denzel Washington, a two-time Academy Award winner with three Oscar nominations and 95 other nominations and awards. His fans are accustomed to seeing him in strong roles; often acting in true stories and playing heroes that overcame great odds. What some may not realize is that Washington is a family man of faith that sees the roles he plays through this light.
Washington contemplated his character and the choices he had to make. “Here’s a man who, like Paul knocked off his horse, has this epiphany moment. God spoke to him and tells him to take the Bible and go West.” He said that for him, the real test of Eli’s character came at the most violent point of the movie when he was protecting the Bible. “There’s a fork in the road and there’s a final lesson that he needs to learn.” he explained. “Sometimes we get so focused in God’s name that we miss the real message.”
Washington speaks about God and the Bible with the same peaceful assurance as the fictional character he portrays. “I’m on my third time through the Bible,” he said. “Fundamentally, all the books [in the Bible] say that God is love.”
“In the end,” he said, “it’s about love. My Dad was a minister for 50 years and he prayed about everything, every day and he’d always end with, ‘God is love.’ It took me a long time to learn what that really meant. I don’t care what book you read, if you don’t love your fellow man, then you don’t have anything.” It is this idea that Washington hopes will come through in the movie.
Gary Oldman is the actor that plays Carnegie, the bad guy who will stop at nothing to get the Bible from Eli. Oldman defended his protagonist character, as not simply evil but as coming from an environment in which he needed help. He explained that human nature is often more complex than just all good or all evil. “Along the way, he might have been distracted,” he said of his character. “He’s been very clever and he wants to put order into things but the power has gotten to him.”
An interesting sidebar to the character of Carnegie is that he is seen wearing a cross and medals in the movie. During this interview he was asked about them. “Oh, those are actually mine,” he said pulling them out from under his shirt. He revealed a cross, a medal of St. Jude and the Miraculous Medal. Gary explained that it seemed to fit with his character’s fascination with the power of the Bible, so his medals were simply included as part of his costume.
Mila Kunis, who stars as Solara, Carnegie’s stepdaughter, points out that Carnegie wants to keep her and her mother safe, but in the end he treats people like slaves. Her character is a young smart girl attracted to the strength and wisdom she senses in Eli. Kunis described her character as naive and somehow uncontaminated by the evil around her. “She is innocent,” Mila said, “and her character grows throughout the film. Solara was born after the war. She does not know what the world has to offer but she’s willing to venture out, not fully knowing the good, the bad and the ugly.”
A Message Beyond Entertainment
Although the film takes place in a devastated world, it is hopeful. In spite of the “R” rating for violence and language, I did like this movie. For one, it portrays the message that the Bible is powerful and that we should allow God to direct our lives. This gives the movie a much deeper meaning than just entertainment. I also think that The Book of Eli will not be preaching to the choir. Many people will go to this movie merely to be entertained by its action-packed adventure, but will come away with a much deeper experience.
This film is rated “R” for violence and language. Alcon Entertainment’s action adventure film The Book of Eli is a Warner Bros. Pictures release that will be in theaters Jan. 15.