The Book of Eli…
Just got back from seeing this post-apocalyptic mad-max thriller of epic proportions. In this movie Denzel is part prophet & part muse. Other times he is part Jackie Chan part VanDamme. It was fascinating to see actually these different parts play themselves out through an actor that most recently was in the subway train equivalent of Pushing Tin. But it worked. Denzel carried enough charisma and enough pathos to make the character come to life. The story is deeper than your average cinema fair and I’m sure it will offend nearly everyone somehow. Whether for being too slow. Being too violent. Being too myopic. Being too theological. Being atheological. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, I must warn you – this movie is a mood movie. You have to come ready for wide vistas of apocalyptic carnage and a totally foreboding score. The cinematography is gripping in its starkness. Throughout the entire movie I knew I had to be seeing tons and tons of CG efforts on the screen as it was just other-worldly barren. Way to blank a canvas to be shot in a real location. The musical backdrop doesn’t help much on this front either. You’ll find more lunar landscapes here too. But if you can get past all this – better yet, if you can embrace the vast wasteland we are presented with – there are delights untold to partake in.
The story is odd to say the least. Throw in a little Mad Max and some southern Baptist Bible thumping and you almost have it. Eli has a book. And Gary Oldman’s character – played with the panache of a wily Bible Thumper – wants it. And he wants it badly. What is the book that everyone is dying to protect and dying to get their hands on? Why the Bible of course. Seriously. A King James version no less. A great big tome of a thing, which is the last Bible on the entire planet. So here you have your plot. Enter several brutal slaughters laid down by our man Eli protecting said book and we have the action portion of our stew. Throw in several different surprises at the ending and voila we have the makings of a deep thinker of a movie that glories in the restoration of the Bible to the world. Wait just a cotton-pickin-second.
I think what I’m about to say here could be constituted as something of a spoiler. I personally don’t think it is – but I’m warning you in advance just so I don’t get any hate mail. Eli befriends a young girl born after “the war” and instantly begins to ask questions about the book. In explaining its power Eli explains “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you… at least that’s what I got out of it.” Wah? Wait just a minute now… what?
Pardon me while I turn this apocalyptic shoot’em up into one big theological aside – but I can’t help myself. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a second out to talk with those of you that think similarly as Eli about the Bible. Whether you think of yourself as a Christian or not – if you think the Bible’s one main overriding message is that we should “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” you’ve got it all wrong. Exactly backwards and completely wrong. The Old and New testaments are not a reference guide for things we ought to be doing. Sure, there are guidelines to help us live a righteous life – but I’d even venture to say that these guides are irrelevant as well. The apostle Paul in Romans 3:10 cleared this one up fairly succinctly when he said “There are none righteous, no not one.” More to the point we are instructed to Abide in Christ and that then He will abide in us. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” For without Me, you can do nothing.
This is the message of the gospel and the entire Bible. Abide in God. Allow Him to forgive you and to allow his grace to restore you to the original state all humans were intended for – perfect communion with Him. Sure, once we are forgiven and reborn, we will follow the golden rule through His help. We will do “greater things” than even Christ did, which is share this amazingly fantastic news across the planet and see millions and millions follow after Him. But if you are of the mind that doing good to others is some sort of path to heaven, this would be incorrect. Exactly wrong.
So, what did I think of the movie? I loved it. Loved the action and the characters. Each one was played perfectly and dialed in the raw emotive firepower necessary to hit this movie completely out of the park. But even so I’m going to give it a thumbs down. Towards the end of the movie we see a shot of Eli’s book being slid in on a shelf with numerous other spiritual books from other religions. It was then that the movie snapped into place for me. The agenda was clear. All religions are important. All lead towards the path of living a better life. The Bible did that through “Do unto others”. Each of these other books do this too and whether you are a Muslim, Hindu or a Christian… follow your foundational beliefs and do good to others… and ultimately you will find your way to heaven. This lie is so insidiously deceiving I can’t recommend anyone going anywhere near it. Its so subtly appealing, and yet utter tripe.
If you are mature enough to understand the agenda this movie is bringing to the table – great. Go enjoy its fantastically crafted yet surreal landscapes and its beautifully imparted acting. But if you can’t even begin parsing what I am saying here then I recommend that you avoid the movie lines and pick up a Bible for yourself (heck, if you need a Bible I’ll send you one, not any old Gideon quality Bible but a really good one) and read through the book of John and see if Jesus doesn’t spell it out for you clearer than Eli will.