Movie Review: The Book of Eli

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.

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • Patti, Thanks for the good review, especially the line: “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.”


  • This film is valuable on several levels. It entertains. It evangelizes pagan America. It warns about the dangers of warmongering. It critiques political correctness — Eli’s postwar world had so much anti-religious bias that it blamed religion for its own ruination and banned the Bible. Finally, the film reminds us that no matter how dire the situation, there always remains hope.

    “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” (Alexander Pope)

  • lkeebler

    We must be careful what we put into our minds, that we are not filling them with so much violence or other very undesirable things in order to see the “good” parts of the movie (or t.v. or book, computer, etc). Christ tells us to guard our hearts and our minds – some scriptures:

    Ro 1:21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

    Ro 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

    Ro 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Ro 14:5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.

    2Co 3:14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.

    Eph 4:17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.

    Eph 4:23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,

    Php 3:19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

    Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Col 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

    Tit 1:15 To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted.

    Heb 8:10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

  • bojuka

    The Book of Eli is a remarkable movie, though not perfect. And yes, there is a considerable amount of violence. It just sheds light on the realism on a post apocalyptic society when truth and law has vanquished. Eli was told to go West by God with the Bible in his possession. He responded with faith and obedience. Such was with The Ark of the Covenant which given to Moses and the Children of Israel in their journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. A very similar account in many aspects. Eli is the 2nd Law Giver; as Moses is the 1st.

  • sarahvab

    Fr. Robert Barron did a review of the film and really explained it well:–Barron-comments-on–The-Book-of-Eli–%28SPOILERS.aspx. I always enjoy his movie reviews and commentaries. Does anyone else visit the Word On Fire website?