Review: The Book of Eli

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it. ~Amos 8:11-12

The Book of Eli is directed by Albert and Allen Hughes and stars Denzel Washington as Eli, Gary Oldman as Carnegie, and Mila Kunis (“Jackie” in That 70’s show) as Solara.  It is an action drama with a spaghetti western feel set in a post-apocalyptic context.

The Book of Eli touches on the biblical themes of depravity, revelation, and grace and provides some very interesting social and spiritual commentary.  Oh…and some great action too with a Mad Max post-apocalyptic setting and a main character that is a combination of Outlaw Josey Wales plus The Highlander plus Elisha.  This is a very good film that will entertain and provide the viewer with much to ponder.

In the post war setting of Eli there is no central government or law and man has descended into other-devouring (literally) depravity.  In this way Eli is a modern  Lord of the Flies.  Governance is a gift of God’s common grace to a fallen world. Of course government cannot ‘save’ a fallen world but it can restrain sin.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

However, The Book of Eli makes its strongest statements through the themes of revelation and the Bible. The tag-line of the film is, “Some will kill to have it, he will kill to protect it.”  The it is the sole remaining copy of the Bible (KJV if you’re interested) on American soil following the war.  Eli explains that after the war orders were given to destroy all the Bibles because some thought its teachings were responsible for the war.

Eli was led by God to find the Bible and to deliver it to a place he would know when he arrived.  (Abrahamic call anyone?)  Eli has been walking West for 30 years when he encounters Carnegie, a local despot, who has been looking for a Bible so he can rule with it. (Interesting that thematically in Genesis when people move East they move away from God and the covenant.)    There are very powerful statements in the film about the abuse of Scripture for power through Carnegie and the necessity of rebirth to truly see the light of God’s revelation.   There is  also an insightful moment when Eli says, “I have spent so much time trying to defend it [the Bible] I forgot to do what it says.”

My final thought on The Book Of Eli is that it expresses a profound respect for the Bible and is a dramatic polemic against so much of the entertainment culture and western culture in general that despises it.   This is a great film which bears several viewings to mine all that is there.

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Book of Eli

  1. Great thoughts, Steve! It was fun to see this film together. I liked the movie a lot and would see it again…I think it will be even better the second time. But, I should warn everyone that the movie is rated ‘R’ for good reason…it’s pretty violent and it seems the only way to creatively express anger in the post-apocalyptic world is the liberal use of the ‘F-word’. If you can tolerate such things you’ll enjoy the film.

  2. I, too was impressed with this film. It gives a credible view of what our culture would be like without the influence of Scripture. The acting is powerful. It is rare to view a film where the worldview that is portrayed is on target. Kudos to Washington for both producing and acting in this epic statement. Thanks for highlighting this film in your review. Your notes of caution are certainly appropriate.

  3. My son Davis (15) and I were discussing the film and he thought of some interesting things. SPOILER:

    Eli gives the book up to Carnegie at the end of the film and is shot and killed to the shock and dismay of Solara and to Redridge (played by Ray Stevenson). Redridge is Carnegie’s right-hand man. Here is what my 15 year old saw…the death of Eli is reminiscent of a Passion play. Solara fills the role of Mary Magdalene and Redridge is played like the reluctant but dutiful Roman Centurion who at the cross “sees” that surely this must be the son of God. Eli gives up the book to spare Solara’s life…when she returns and finds him alive (though still wounded) she asks him about giving up the book to which he replied, “I’ve been protecting this so long I forgot to do what it says…” – What did he do? He laid his life down for his friend.

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