A loopy movie that pulls the narrative rug out from under the audience on numerous occasions, The Book of Eli answers the question: what would you get if you combined the post-apocalyptic, Western, samurai, and religious epic genres? The answer is, The Good, the Bad-ass, and the Holy Man; or “all of the above”. I dug it for its gob smackingly over-the-top moments; but it’s hard to imagine a film that posits civilization will be saved by literacy that I would not like.
Denzel Washington plays a lone traveler, named Eli, in an America that was devastated by a nuclear explosion thirty years prior, trying to make his way “West” for mysterious reasons. He runs afoul of a crime boss (Gary Oldman) in a small town who has big aspirations of ruling the world (what’s left of it) through the powerful language in a book that was burned after the war, and which Eli has the last copy on earth. The traveler, meanwhile, intends to get where he’s going and is quite prepared to kill anyone who gets in his way.
It’s probably not giving away anything to reveal that the book is the Bible and Denzel is something of a holy man. It’s sort of like the Hughes Brothers said, “Okay, let’s just fuck with the commonplace idea that religious movies can’t have lots of bloody kung-fu scenes”. And I guess your take on the film will depend on how you see this particular narrative twist. I enjoyed it because it’s just so weird: The Holy Road Warrior? Also, the film neither buries the religious message, nor beats us over the head with it.
And, besides, after watching so many movies, I simply crave “WTF?” moments. There’s a point here in which the baddies are firing thousands of rounds of ammunition into a farm house owned by an elderly cannibal couple and Eli receives the prophecy that our heroes will live and the old human-munchers will kick the bucket, which promptly happens; all the while, the camera is swooping between the house and the gatling gun, following the path of the bullets; and the scene was just so over-the-top and nutzoid that it was impossible for me to dislike the rest of the movie.
That said, the final narrative twist doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the context of the movie, it’s pretty hard to imagine that Eli read the Bible for thirty years and never got to anything like “Thou Shalt Not Kill a Massive Number of Bad Guys via Your Awesome Fighting Skills”, I never understood how human beings were supposed to survive if they have almost no access to water, and I’m guessing it doesn’t really take thirty years to walk across the American continent. Nevermind. I’m still a sucker for ultra-violent action movies with loopy narratives, and the final message: that civilization will be saved by book-readers and literacy, was truly righteous. Amen.