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.