Review (Film) – The Book of Eli
Granted, I went into viewing The Book of Eli fully aware that it was a sci-fi action with a religious theme, but even then I didn’t expect the film to be such a blatant Christian propaganda film. It almost struck me as an attempt to gain Christian converts by showing off the badass Christian warrior of the future. But, I say “almost” for a reason; I actually liked this film quite a bit, despite the endless Christian imagery and motifs.
The Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic future which resulted from a nuclear war of some vague nature. Eli, the Christian warrior-prophet, is on a pilgrimage west, across the wasteland that is America. Along his path, he encounters a number of lawless murderers, rapists, and bandits, all of which have clearly fallen from the Christian path. After watching just a few minutes of the film, I was reminded of Fallout 3 (360, PS3, PC) and, as the story continued, I was convinced that you could create a character that looks exactly like Eli (played by Denzel Washington) in Fallout 3 and play out a story that is very similar to the movie… which I might do still. In any case, while on his pilgrimage West, Eli stumbles into a community of the desperate and the depraved, inhabited by victims and degenerates alike, and governed by a ruthless mastermind named Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman). Carnegie is conducting a mad hunt for any copy of the Bible that may have survived the book burnings that followed the nuclear war, and it turns out that the last copy of the Bible is the very book in Eli’s possession, the guiding purpose behind his pilgrimage. This, of course, leads to an action-packed heroic epic in true Biblical fashion.
Christian imagery and motifs abound in The Book of Eli, but it’s not always that obvious. Consider the scorched earth setting of the film. One interesting characteristic of the world after the war is that the ozone layer has been severely damaged, allowing dangerous levels of ultraviolet rays to bombard the earth’s surface and all who walk upon it. Although the set design and landscapes believably represent this post-nuclear holocaust world, the sun shines brightly in many scenes to emphasize Eli’s piety, as if it were the holy light of God Himself.
Nevertheless, to really demonstrate that The Book of Eli really bashes its audience over their heads with Christianity, consider the climax of the film. It should be no surprise that Eli succeeds in delivering the Bible to the promised land in the West, and once he arrives, they begin mass printing the Bible again. This is supposed to be a triumphant moment in the narrative; Christianity is returning to a dark world and, although it may struggle, it promises to bring peace to this wild, unholy land. To really drive that point home, the film features an orgy of images of the Bible as it moves through the printing press, highlighting particularly poetic and persuasive passages. The montage is clearly intended to reinforce the power and triumph of Christianity in the minds of the audience.
And that’s what bothers me about this film. Although I like this movie and I found it thoroughly entertaining as a sci-fi action flick, I can’t help but be bothered how the film might be received by a more Christian audience, especially an audience like the right wing, uber-Christian fanatic demographic, Palin’s Paladins, for instance. Despite the fact that the film admits that many people blamed the Bible and institutionalized religion in general as the cause of the nuclear holocaust, that fact is downplayed since it is revealed to the audience by the villain, which inherently taints the statement as dubious simply because the villain said it. I suspect The Book of Eli could really reinforce a fanatical Christian mindset in people who already tend to perceive themselves that way. It could even be seen as a training video for today’s God-warriors who plan on surviving whatever apocalypse they perceive looming in our near future. Hence, I’m at least half-serious when I call The Book of Eli a Christian propaganda film.
Regardless, I’d like to say I enjoyed this film. The Christian overtones are overwhelming and annoying at times, but the action is pretty cool. Eli fights his enemies with a handgun, shotgun, and a really cool knife or sword. The knife is seriously badass, allowing Eli to fend off the attack from a chainsaw-wielding heathen even! The challenges Eli must face and the questions raised in the narrative are interesting to watch unfold and intriguing to ponder for oneself. In the end, however, The Book of Eli just makes me want to replay Fallout 3.