The Hughes Brothers, Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman just might have created the anti-Avatar. The Book of Eli is an incredibly dark yet moving film. It is a powerful exploration of how far one man would go guided by an indomitable will and an unwavering faith.
Albert and Allen Hughes pay homage to the classic Western in their post-apocalyptic vision. Denzel Washington is the man with no name, dubbed Eli because inside his backpack is a name tag that reads, “Hi, My name is Eli.” We never know whether that’s his real name. We do learn, however, that he is traveling West with the last known copy of Bible. Mobs destroyed all others because they believed the Bible caused a war that ravaged the planet.
America is a nightmare landscape filled with cannibalistic gangs. On his journey, Eli wanders into a town controlled by the ruthless Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie, however, is not your average thug. He is a book-loving thug with a mission. His greatest desire is a copy of the Bible, which he’ll use to “run the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate” as he rebuilds civilization in his image.
Outstanding performances, brilliant film work and an excellent score bring the story’s landscape to life, if I may use that term for such a hauntingly dead world. Rescuing this story from devolving into a well made Mad Max redux is the book Eli carries and the faith he brings into a Godless world.
Brief moments of calm exquisitely balance the film’s violence. In one sequence, Eli shares a meal with Solara (Mila Kunis) rather than use her as Carnegie intended. Eli stops her before she rips into the food, sits her down, holds her hands, and says a simple grace. It so moves Solara that she repeats the practice with her mother, which cues Carnegie into the fact that there is much more to Eli than meets the eye. In less capable hands, the shared meal might have slowed the film tremendously. In The Book of Eli, it draws us into the film and turns what might have been an unrelenting action flick into a film with depth and meaning.
The Hughes Brothers contrast a 70s post-apocalyptic movie with their movie by the presence of a detail seen after Carnegie and Eli first meet. Carnegie wants Eli to join his militia after Eli slaughters some half dozen or more of Carnegie’s henchmen in the town bar. He locks Eli in one of the bar’s rooms so Eli can consider the offer. Hanging on the room’s wall is an old movie poster promoting A Boy and His Dog.
A Boy and His Dog and The Book of Eli could not be more opposite in their depiction of the human condition. In the former, Vic is a selfish young man wandering a post-apocalyptic America driven solely by the satisfaction of his animal urges – eating and fornication. Eli, on the other hand, is an old man, relative to most other survivors, and declares, “I walk by faith.” He finds fulfillment through his connection with and tireless pursuit of God’s will. In contrast to A Boy and His Dog, the Hughes Brothers created “A Man and his God.”
Is The Book of Eli the ‘anti-Avatar?’ Avatar displays disdain for Western Civilization and its religion. Eli, however, shows great respect for the very thing without which Civilization perishes. The Hughes Brothers’ post-apocalyptic America is a place entirely devoid of religion. In the character Eli one sees the the civilizing power that comes from an uncorrupted faith and deep devotion to God. I left this incredible film wondering just how long I’d last and how far I’d go with nothing but faith as my guide.