The Book of Eli

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!”

The Protagonist

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.

The Antagonist

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.

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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  • lkeebler

    It is our hearts and MINDS we need to guard. I know how enticing movies, t.v., music, media (including junk on the computer), can be. It draws us in delicately, innocently, with a theme, a character, a plot that seems “good”, that is innocuous. But we must have a discerning spirit about all things we allow our minds to absorb, especially movies and television because they are so visual, they stick in the mind and have the greatest influence because of their impact on the mind. I can tell immediately by your article this is not a movie to watch, because of its violence, language, because of what one has to sit through and be exposed to in order to be entertained by the “good” parts.

    If we want to put good stuff into our minds, there is plenty out there in the scripture, in prayer, in the rosary, in spiritual books about the Saints and written by the Saints – sound boring, then you are overexposed to the junk of t.v., movies, etc. There are very very few movies and a small handful of t.v. programs that are really “good” to watch (and then there are still the commercials or movie clips one has to be exposed to). Christ makes it perfectly clear that we are to 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 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 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.
    Ac 15:24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your MINDS,
    2Co 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the MINDS of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
    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.

  • nussiofamily

    I am concerned by the description of the “bad guy” wearing a cross, St. Jude medal, and the Miraculous Medal. While it is wonderful for there to be a movie about a Bible-toting good guy listening to God’s commands, is it necessary to counter that with a bad guy decked with Catholic devotions? I suspect this is not accidental, but even supposing that it is merely a coincidence, I think this plays too much into the uninformed perception of the Church locking up the Bible from the faithful in the Middle Ages. I will assume Gary Oldman wore his cross and holy medals in good faith, but I still object to consistant association of a villain with symbols of the Catholic Church.

  • patti

    There’s a few things to keep in mind regarding this movie. First of all, there will be a more detailed movie review on this page on Saturday which will flesh out the premise better. I’d like to respond to the above comments in the meantime.

    I agree that we must guard our minds. Ordinarily, I stay away from violent movies. After all, I even feel sorry for the worm and the fish when I go fishing, so you can imagine how much I DON”T like violence. When the movie, Saving Private Ryan came out, however, I watched it and let my older teens watch it. The violence gave a realistic image of what war is like. IT had no other purpose than reality and it certainly did not glorify it.

    Again, with The Book of Eli, the violence is a reflection of humanity without God. The director explained that they actually turned the lighting away and so the gore was not highlighted as much as it could have been. Still, it is a violent movie. I don’t like those parts and I don’t need them to get the message because I’m living the Gospel message in my life. I’m guessing everyone reading the article is living the message too. So, maybe the people on this list have good reasons for not wanting to see the movie. I understand and agree. What I like most about the movie, however, is that people that are not like us, go to see these types of movies. Regardless of our taste for violence, there’s people out there attracted to adventure movies chock full of violence. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that the people that go to such movies will receive a very positive, Christian message with this one. Of course it’s not for kids.

    While I was sitting, waiting do be a part of the interviews, one of the writers made the comment that this movie may intrigue people to get a Bible and find out what is so wonderful about it. There’s nothing in this movie’s message that is not something I think we all agree on.

    Secondly, as for the medals–I hear ya. I too would prefer the bad guy not to be wearing them. But to me, the cool part was that those were his own personal medals. He pulled them out from under his shirt when someone asked about the medals in the film. I thought it was fun to see a famous Hollywood actor pull out his St. Jude and Miraculous medals. I also think it’s cool that Denzel Washington is on this 3rd time through the Bible. He’s not Catholic so of course we would not see eye to eye on everything. What I’m celebrating is the Christian message on the big screen among the biggest of producers and actors. Is it a wholesome, Catholic Family movie? No. It’s a movie with a Christian message that might be heard by people who ordinarily would run from such a message.