January 24, 2010

Get out of your basement and go see The Book of Eli

It's like watching someone else play Fallout!!!111!!

The car's been in the shop for while now waiting on some parts to ship, but I finally caved and rented a car, so for the first time in two weeks we went out for the day, and saw the first movie that I've actually wanted to see in two years: The Book of Eli.

As other reviewers have pointed out, it's Kung Fu, Mad Max and a bit of Fahrenheit 451, a post-nuclear disaster movie with bandits, refugees, warlords and cannibals - typical fare for a movie with such a desperate setting.

I was caught in the first 15 minutes, as soon as I heard the first measure of Al Green's How Can You Mend a Broken Heart that played on Eli's (Denzel Washington) commandeered mp3 player while he sat back for the night in the fried remains of a suburban home after taking new boots from a hanging corpse in the closet. The Hughes brothers really came through with the soundtrack and as a huge fan of Al Green in that time period (I'm Still in Love with You, Let's Stay Together, some of the greatest music ever made), that really pulled me in. Al Green was always a light touch. Even in his saddest accounts of failed relationships there is a melancholy beauty, a soft resignation. It's subtle and comfortable, music starkly opposed to the scalding ruin Eli walks.

I won't disclose much else in the movie with that detail, but don't read any further if you don't want any more spoilers.


Eli is transporting the last copy of the Bible to an unknown safe destination "West" via instructions from an unknown voice (God) shortly after The Flash, the catastrophic result of The War that ruined the world, which we're led to believe was caused by the Bible or books like it (in other words, conflicting philosophies). All Bibles were burned after The War, but the voice led Eli to find this Bible under some rubble. Eli eventually runs into a gangster named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who is looking for the Bible to use it as an agent of control for the weak and the hopeless instead of relying on fear and violence. For the entire plot, read the Wikipedia article.

Eli's destination is a library (established in Alcatraz), of course, a place where he recites the Bible to a scribe before he dies, which is then printed and placed on a shelf with other iconic religious works: the Qur'an, the Torah, etc. His traveling companion is with him and the scribe the entire time, hears the entirety of the Bible, and then sets out to return to her home town on foot wearing Eli's clothes and carrying his weapons and equipment. Her mother is Carnegie's wife and (I'm assuming) she intends to save her.

So it's a story about the many facets of faith. It can give people purpose and drive in a time of desperation or it can be used to establish self-regulating controls that appeal to a higher power, elevating the status of the implementers to liaison (priests, shamans, etc.) and giving them indisputable authority.

It's also about the importance of retaining and disseminating our history. None of these themes are new or revolutionary (the recitation of the Bible from memory is, I'm assuming, a nod to Fahrenheit 451), but I like how they were incorporated into the movie. It was interesting and entertaining, but also unassuming, even in its fantastic context.

Most importantly, The Book of Eli was a good adventure movie.

Of course, we're not able to just say "cool story bro" and move on, still nerding out on how cool the fight scene under the bridge was, we have to make comments like this:

...if Warner Bros. cared to court the normally stay-at-home Christian audience, it would hit a mother lode of positive response.

and

The movie uses "empty religious propaganda" as a "clumsy" plot device. The end result is a "meaningless" film that insults both the faith of true believers — and the intelligence of secular filmgoers.

I think that's a load, personally. As much as the reviewers try to shoehorn the movie into a Christian category, it just doesn't fit. The Hughes brothers (a half atheist duo btw) have said that the Bible was used because it's the most familiar religious book in the western world. It could very well be the Torah or the Bhagavad Gita.

If you like sci fi movies, go see it, unless you're one of these nitpickers that need everything - including entertainment - to conform to your worldview, in which case you should probably just stay in the basement and wait until you can download via BitTorrent between episodes of Full Metal Alchemist, then decry its philosophical implications on your forum of choice, taking care to spell Christian "Xtian" while skillfully switching between your sockpuppets: ReasonAvngr, DwakinsHero and iluNaruto.

Seriously. Fun movie, go see it.

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