Thoughts on The Book of Eli

Warning: This contains spoilers. If you do not want to know what happens and how the movie ends,  do not continue any further

Two weeks ago my wife and I went to the movies. We saw The Book of Eli. This film has so much interesting material that I felt compelled to share some thoughts with you. That being said you should know that there’s quite a bit of spoiler information in this entry.

Setting. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and in this sense has a very Mad Max feel to it. Having suffered the ravages of a great war and a major environmental catastrophe, the majority of people over the age of 35 are dead. Those over 35 that survive are blind or nearly blind. The new generation of those under the age of 35 are largely illiterate; most books were destroyed and holy books have been wiped off the face of the planet (because they are thought to have been the cause of the war).

Here are a couple of disconnected thoughts:

1) One thing that The Book of Eli does very well is delineate good and evil. This isn’t to say that Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, is a sinless saint. But the movie does make a clear distinction between the moral character of the Eli and that of the villain, played by Gary Oldman, Carnegie. The story is about Eli and his journey to deliver a book. Soon the audience is made aware that the book that Eli is carrying is nothing less than the worlds last copy of the Bible, a King James version no less. Carnegie is intent on finding the Bible. Daily his thugs go out robbing and pillaging from those they come across looking for this book (they too are illiterate, and have to have Carnegie tell them whether or not the books they bring him are what he’s looking for). Carnegie’s intentions are as malevolent as they are pragmatic: He, with the help of his henchmen, seeks to expand both his territory and his power.

The movie gives no hint that Carnegie actually believes tis the divine origin of the Bible, but he knows that it shapes culture and the decisions of men. Likewise, he knows that the Bible’s words have been used to condone all manners of activity. This approach is essentially “we can get them to do whatever we want, if only the words that we use come from this book.” Eli, on the other hand, is a believer. So it should be noted that in this film the contrast is not between one person who denies the power of the Bible and another person who affirms it. Rather it is the contrast between two men who attribute different kinds of power and influence to the Bible. Eli sees the power as spiritual, and Carnegie sees it as a manipulative. This is no doubt a true insight. Hitler himself made use of biblical language in order to stir up the German people, while secretly he despised Christianity. Again, Hitler did this primarily for manipulative and pragmatic reasons.

2) Something is left out of the film; something crucial to the central premise of the movie. The film centers on the man with the last known Bible, not the Koran or any other holy book. The entire film gives you the impression that preserving this book is more than about merely preserving one of “the classics.” This book, and no other, will serve as the “salvation” of civilization. I really wish the writers would have mentioned why the Bible (and no other holy Book!) needed preservation (apart from narrowly defined “spiritual” reasons). It was in the Christianized West where modern science, democracy, and freedom where born (for more on this see the works of Rodney Stark).


Posted on February 5, 2010, in Culture. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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