Nate Watches – “Book of Eli”

This movie reminds me of Taken from last year.  Both were a movie I expected to enjoy.

Both turned out to be movies I really, really enjoyed.

Book of Eli takes place in a post-apocalyptic future.  The Apocalypse?  It’s strongly hinted to be a nuclear war.  Which is very appropriate because this movie isn’t about the apocalypse, it’s about religion.  And religion is much like nuclear power: it can give great benefits, or great destruction.  Indeed we might ask if we should really try to rid ourselves of either.  Would the benefits really outweigh the costs that would result?  Would it really be worth losing all fire has done for mankind in order to ensure nobody is ever burned?

You don’t have to be on the internet long to hear some repeated points about faith.  One of them is the idea that “I don’t need a book to tell me not to kill.”  What a person saying that fails to realize is that they’ve never been truly tempted to.  This movie examines that point in brilliant subtlety.  The point of a religion, of a guide, is like a map for a road trip.  As long as the road is straight and easy, you may not need it.  It’s when you reach crossroads, that truly difficult choices must be made, that the value of the map is clearest.  “Man is a rationalizing creature” the saying goes and when one is truly, deeply tempted to do something wrong, one realizes how valuable that book is.  The desire to do a wrong act can usually find easy justification and allies within one’s own mind.  A clear, concise instruction of “thou shalt not” from beyond one’s self is a powerful opponent of these desires.

Throughout the movie, this is shown as Eli is confronted with difficult choices, and we see him contrasted against those faced with the same, but choose wrongly.  You realize that his book has given him the internal courage and fortitude to make decisions that might even get him killed, but are the right ones nonetheless.

Another great parable folded into the film is one also mentioned in the Matrix sequels, but much better taught: purpose.  The chief appeal of faith for people is not an afterlife, but purpose.  Eli never talks or make any mention of Heaven, but he talks endlessly about his destination, his task.  Despite being a poor man, he constantly appears richer than the surrounding cast.  For them, life is just one day followed by another – nothing more than survival.  What is there to live for?  Even the main villain, who is practically wealthy and has “plans” and “dreams” comes off as poorer than Eli.

I’m hoping to see it again tomorrow, and a 2nd viewing should reveal how well the movie stands.  One or two questions remain but, like religion, you realize that the particulars are not as important as the foundational point.

EDIT: Upon seeing the film a 2nd time, I have revised the score. What I had perceived to be potential plot holes were adequately explained. This is a very deep and intricate movie, one of my favorite types in that it demands you think along with it. Highly recommended.

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6 thoughts on “Nate Watches – “Book of Eli”

  1. I agree with all the points you made in this review. However, I have to say that the ending annoyed me somewhat (not the ‘big reveal’, I thought that was awesome). I kind of got the impression that this guy had worked for 30 years so that… they could put the book up on the shelf. Um, why? What good does it do there? It kind of felt like they sold out to the ‘well, the Bible is an important book, but don’t take it TOO seriously’ viewpoint right at the end.

    • Spoiler Alert:

      I think it was clear at the end that Eli’s impact on Solara had changed her and she was going back home to spread the word. In fact, judging from the number of copies they made at archives, I think she may have taken a copy.

      At any rate, also remember that only 2 people (that we saw) could read Eli’s book and Solara (as well as probably others) couldn’t read either. Exact copies of the book weren’t as important as the transmission of it verbally and by action. If Eli hadn’t gotten the copy to the archives (and he was right, that was the only copy left) then it would have been lost forever.

      And I think I disagree. I think the point of the movie was that you needed to take it too seriously. Or rather, Eli learning that maybe he was too obsessed with the physical object and not with its message. After all, if you don’t let the book transform you, then it is, just a book.

      • You are probably right there. I am afraid I have become so jaded and cynical about Christianity being portrayed in mainstream popular culture that I always tend to assume the worst.

  2. I thought it was pretty clear that the book was going to go into mass production, once they had enough materials. The book is being kept there until they are ready to start spreading back into the world, at which point it and all the other religious books will go into regular circulation. As for whether the Christian religion will become prominent again, I think Salara(sp?) going back home to spread the word is a good indication.

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