‘The Book of Eli’- the view from there…

I have just watched this film;

It is a troubled, mixed up mess of a movie-  a kind of religious Mad Max with swords. What makes it interesting (if not necessarily entertaining) is the theological underpinnings of it all.

I use the word troubled, as a more dystopian, distorted version of religion than the one portrayed in the film is hard to imagine.

The central character (Denzil Washington) is walking through a post apocalyptic world. He meets lots of low life’s and chops many of them up. He ends up in a town ruled by a despot who is sending out murderous road parties in search of ‘the Book’. The book will give him the power and authority.

The book in question is a Bible, and Denzil happens to have one.

Casual sex is offered, and turned down. Sex is bad (but chopping people up is fine.)

Denzil has a mission you see- to take the Book to a place where it will be received properly. By nice people who chop people up but do not have casual sex.

Denzil gets shot, and it goes all mystical. Turns out he is blind and knows the whole book by memory.

Why the book of Eli?

Why not Matthew, or Mark, or Thessalonians?

Perhaps in part this is to do with an Old Testament perspective- all that violence, polarized good and evil. Bad things justified by the mission of God. It simply fits better into the world view of the the culture that the film grew from.

There is something else however- the centrality of The Book.

As if the only means by which God could inspire and engage with people was through the written pages of the Bible- owned and interpreted by a country full of good people- Americans, British people- like you and me.

Nothing about the Word of God made flesh to dwell amongst us.

Or the Spirit who fills us.

Or the presence in the midst.

Nothing about the central vitalising idea called love.

Nothing about the way of peace making and the open hand to the stranger.

This is the ‘prayer’ at the end of the film;

Watch it if you will (you may already have done so.) But watch for what is missing, and watch so you can look through the eyes of the machine that made the film.

And remember that they thought they were giving us what we wanted- what would entertain and engage us- not to shock alienate.

It is all hollow.

5 thoughts on “‘The Book of Eli’- the view from there…

  1. We could be twins! I bought the film cheaply a couple of weeks back. I thought it had some interesting touches but didn’t quite hold together. Maybe another way to see it could be Eli’s change….he begins as a violent man (but the violence he practices is essentially limited as opposed to the gratuitous volience of his nemesis) but he begins to learn dependence and gradually, hollywoodised, the ways of peace. Perhaps there is a hint of ‘love’ at the end?

    (Midn you this comes from a man who could watch Kill Bill vol 1 over and over again…)

    • Interesting that you saw him as somehow embracing peace- all films try to show character progression, but I did not see him becoming more peaceful? Other than the fact that violence was the end of him too.

      His disciple sets off into the badlands at the end taking with her- his sword? Not a copy of the Bible you might notice! Too dangerous out there amongst the Indians/Muslims/Russians.

      But perhaps we analyse too much (people have accused me of this!) I like Kill Bill too- what is not to like about a woman in a yellow cat suit chopping up ninjas?

      • I get accused of thinking too much as well!

        Think I was being a devil’s advocate there. But with increasing infirmity (and puzzlingly dressed in white) he becomes more peaceful. Some of the imagery is laid on too thick.

        You may have a point- he becomes more peaceful but his ‘disciples’ , although changed, still carry a sword and still execute a ‘gospel’ of righting wrongs through revenge. The revenge motif is strong in current films.

        I agree with your Kill Bill observation…

  2. I have recorded the film but not yet watched [thanks for letting me know how it ends] when I watch sometime this week I’ll have a better reply. I can’t imagine anyone ever saying you analyse things too much!!! Tell me who they are and I’ll chop them up for you. P.S. Titanic sinks in the end!!!!

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