Films I Like – The Book of Eli

Well, considering I’m commenting these days on video games as well as table top games I figured I might as well add the final tri-force of today’s geek-chic culture to this blog; cinema.

I love movies almost as much a I love books, video games and toy soldiers. Having recently been out to see some of the films of the day I wanted to comment a bit about one that’s stuck out for me; The Book of Eli.

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Now, I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Denzel Washington fan. He can certainly act, and I appreciate his ability to convey an intense, thoughtful person. Sadly though, this is the role he is mostly hired today to portray (like the evil englishman of Malcolm Mcdowell… or the bald englishman of Patrick Stewart… or Christopher Walken playing Christopher Walken). Some of the departures from this I’ve really enjoyed were roles like Man on Fire; where he played a broken individual with an honesty that made you really empathize with his loss and transformation by being exposed to the innocence of a child.

Now, I worried going into this film that I was just going to get a repeat of that performance, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Book of Eli actually isn’t about a super-soldier. It’s not even about religion, though it ostensibly uses the Christian faith as a reference point (as it is targeting western audiences, that seems like a logical choice). It’s about ideologies and how they are used and abused.

Eli is a pilgrim, we are exposed to this fact right from the beginning of the movie. He is traveling through a modern-day biblical wasteland serving what he believes to be some inspired purpose. He’s also most categorically not-to-be-fucked-with. I got my giggling choreographed machete-fighting scene early on and that didn’t really let up all through the flick.

As the film progressed however, it became clear that Eli is not some super-soldier of a previous age (as is humourously revealed). He’s also not looking for saving like Creasy was in Washington’s previous role. He is simply driven by a need to deliver something that he thinks is valuable.

Now there is certainly a lot of debate about the object he is delivering; a St James Bible that ‘needs to be taken west’. Some people have already marked this movie as pro-christian propaganda for a new age. But what the movie really does is show how mankind uses and abuses Ideological Symbols. The premise is that all copies of this book were destroyed during the 31 years after the nuclear war that has ended civilization. Eli is carrying the only one he knows to remain. The idea was that it was destroyed symbolically after religion is blamed for the war.

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The main antagonist in the film (played wonderfully by Gary Oldman, who I adore) knows that this book had power, and the words in it could influence hearts and minds. He plans to use it to expand his little neo-feudal fiefdom that he’s carved out in the deserts of California. Teams are sent to scour the wasteland for a copy, who eventually encounter Eli in a bar buying water and he is forced into a confrontation.

The results aren’t something I’ll spoil, but suffice it to say that I found this movie to be more than enough even handed about the topic of religion. Mankind does not overcome, there is no divine intervention and frankly the only thing that is truly revealed as a product of religion is faith. At the end of the film there is a scene in which we are shown that the nature of the religion in the film isn’t really relevant (as the St James Bible is placed on a shelf with all the other major religious texts of our age), just that someone was inspired enough to have faith in something better.

Overall I left this movie thoroughly satisfied. It had awesome action (machetes are the great equalizer of post-apocalyptica) and a plot that was deep enough to keep me really enjoying both sides of the debate. Oldman and Washington are both in good form and there is even an excellent cameo of a certain Harry Potter actor turned-cannibal.

I was reminded of a book called A Canticle for Leibowitz which I read as a young man. In this book the cyclical nature of mankind and its need to use symbols and ideas to destroy itself are wonderfully (and in some cases ironically) portrayed. Check it out!

I’ve give it four out of five. If you’re a fan of the end of the world like me, go see it while its in theatres!

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~ by Achilles on February 2, 2010.

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