I like Denzel Washington -- always have. I also like action films. So when “The Book of Eli” came out last week I picked up a copy at the local rental joint, bought some Good and Plenty and Sour Patch Kids at Walgreens, and settled in with Mrs. Hump to watch Denzel kick ass and take names in a post apocalyptic America.
What we got was lots of slice and dice / shootin’ and killin’ as a middle aged Denzel (Eli) makes his solitary trek across a devastated landscape. Inhabited largely by low life uncivilized lawless illiterate rabble, the survivors and their off spring of a war that took place perhaps 35 years earlier, the hero dispatches hoards of evil doers with his uncanny martial arts skills. Armed with sword, shotgun, pistol and bow and arrow, nothing can stop him from fulfilling a spiritual quest as he heads west along the “Road of Death” carrying the sole surviving copy of the Bible.
We learn that the nuclear war which destroyed civilization as we know it, plunging the planet back into the dark ages, was a religious war. As a result all copies of the Bible were rounded up and destroyed by the survivors, presumably to prevent another such occurance
The voice of God in his head tells Eli to take his Bible west, guided by “faith and not sight,” [we learn later that Eli is actually blind, and is presumably able to kill everything in his path and appear sighted because of a God given “force” that would be the envy of Luke Skywalker and Yoda combined]. Eli quotes the bible to a rescued damsel who joins him, while being pursued by a megalomaniacal fiend and his henchman bent on obtaining Eli’s Bible thus using it to establish himself as the dictator over the region, if not the country. It’s logical that the Bible could be a catalyst for consolidating such political power; the surviving populace being largely illiterate, unschooled, and impoverished. Sound familiar?
Ultimately Eli reaches his destination, a pocket of civility and educated people who are dedicated to restoring civilization and are collecting and preserving the most important cultural and technological advancements of Man.. And while he loses his King James volume along the way Eli is able to dictate it from memory -- word for word, chapter and verse from Genesis to Revelation -- to the scholarly old scribe who promptly publishes it into bound volumes. Immediately after which Denzel croaks.
To the 86% of Americans who are believers, and especially to the 78% who are Christians, this is the story of a man obediently fulfilling a commandment from God to not let “His” written word be lost for all time. Thus Eli is given powers from God and a faith that compensate for his sightlessness, and who in spite of great odds, is carried by his devotion on a mission to repopulate the planet with copies of the Bible – sacrificing his life in this noble, indeed Christ–like cause.
But to the thinking, to the remaining 14% of us, its meaning is much different. It’s a harbinger of the devastation that the divisiveness of religion, and the fanaticism that inevitably follows, is poised to one day wreak upon the planet. It’s a testament to Man’s willingness to ignore history condemning himself to repeat it. It’s an ode to ancient superstition, a justification for its bigotry and ignorance that will continue to pervade men’s minds far into the future. It’s a lost opportunity to rid mankind of the greatest deception and source of division ever perpetrated. To those of us who reason The Book of Eli is a horror story with a nightmare ending.