We went out to see The Book of Eli tonight as planned. Ethan, Garland, and I arrived at the theater and took up positions in the back row, and settled in for some Saturday night entertainment.
I don't think any of us truly knew what we were in for.
Denzel Washington) lies in wait for his next meal, as soot and ash falls like snowflakes down upon his gas mask clad face. It's a chilling shot. And from this first scene it's pretty clear that this film is going to be a little different.
We follow Denzel's character, Eli, on a trek across a wasted landscape as he scavenges for anything that will aid in his survival on his voyage west. It isn't long before he comes upon a lady seemingly in need of help, but he quickly smells a rat and by the time this scene is over this much is clear: Eli is not the type of guy to be jacking with.
Eventually he reaches a town (if you'd call it that) run by the megalomaniacal Carnegie, played in perfect sneering, posturing form by Gary Oldman. It doesn't take long before he has a run-in with Carnegie's foot soldiers that leaves the tyrant curious about this new stranger in town. Carnegie offers Eli a position working for him, and all of the benefits his town has to offer; a warm bed, a roof over his head, water, and women. In this brave new world life is difficult and the simplest pleasures are held in high status. Predictably, Eli turns down the offer, but it is clear that Oldman's character isn't going to be shot down so easily. We find out that Carnegie is looking for a book, a book that he feels is very important and can be used as a weapon against what he considers to be the weak minded. He means to expand his territory and keep as many under his rule as he can. It seems that the quest for power has not lost its luster, even under all of that dust and ash.
Carnegie begins to suspect, with just a bit of deductive reasoning, that Eli may carry what he is after, and a showdown ensues. But Eli perseveres against all odds, and manages to escape the town. But, of course, Carnegie isn't going to give up so easily. And eventually the hunt is on.
The Book of Eli is a mulligan stew of sorts. The Hughes Brothers have taken an almost graphic novel approach to a very spiritual subject, and somehow it all worked for me. The fights are very stylized and pretty unrealistic. Eli is one bad mofo and we get to see him show off this bad assery several times before the film's conclusion as he uses his shiny sword-machete-thing, guns, knives, axes, incendiary devices, and even a bow and arrow to dispatch foe after foe.
After about the third fight or so, it is clear that there is a little more to Denzel's lone walker than just a guy who is good at martial arts. He is a man chosen by God to protect something holy and sacred. A symbol of hope and a vessel of knowledge that might be the spark which lights the fire of civilization once again.
You may not like what some are referring to as a heavy handed approach to religion and spirituality within the context of this story, but I didn't have a problem with it. The message is a message of faith, and what I took away from it is this: religion can and has been used by wicked people for wicked purposes, but having faith and something to believe in is not wicked. And without faith, regardless of the possibility that religion will probably be used for ill again (as evidenced by Canegie's actions), we might as well be inhuman. On a side note, and this is just my opinion, but I detected some subtleties in Gary Oldman's performance that suggested to me his character had been a television evangelist before the world changed. Maybe I've got it wrong, but watch for it and decide for yourself. But I think it's there, nonetheless.
One thing is certain by the time the credits roll; The Book of Eli is making a statement, and it's not making any apologies for it.
If you go see it or plan on going to see it, let me know what you think. It is almost certainly destined to find itself among my collection of DVD's when it is released to stores.You could have the reaction that my friend Garland had as we were getting up from our seats.
He said, "I think I might need to go get me a Bible now."