A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Book of Eli

May 21, 2011

The Book of Eli

Happy Rapture day everyone! Since the world is going to end today we figured we should watch our movie early (and we’re going to see family.) It’s also only natural that we watch a movie about the apocalypse. A movie about faith and conflict.

I like a movie that doesn’t concern itself too much with answers. Or rather a movie that lets you figure out what’s going on for yourself without explaining it all up front. I remember reading a few luke-warm reviews of this film when it first came out. I’m pretty sure that’s because it was poorly marketed. It was advertised as a sort of post-apocalyptic action movie, and while it does have some very cool action in it that is not what the movie is about, and anybody looking for an adrenaline filled thrill ride is bound to be disappointed. This movie is a deep, soulful and compelling story with a very cool twist to it that just happens to be set in a post apocalyptic world.

I’d say that the world itself is as much a character in the film as Eli or any of the other characters he comes across. That’s established through the lengthy opening as we see Eli wandering the wasteland. He’s a lone walker, traveling the desolate roads after an apocalypse that is never really explained. The pacing is beautiful and deliberate. We see the arid wastes with no water. We see the harsh glare of the sun which necessitates that everybody wear sunglasses when outside during the day. We see the lawless and dangerous bands that prey upon any innocent travellers they come upon. This is a movie that excels at showing instead of telling, which I very much appreciate.

Eli is a consummate survivor, as anybody wandering the Earth in these harsh times would need to be. It’s established early on that he’s more than capable of taking care of himself. He can navigate the empty roads and makes mincemeat of smaller bands of roving hijackers who would kill him for his water (or just to eat him.) It is when he comes across a small town of people who have come together under a single charismatic leader that things start to go wrong for him.

The leader of this town is Carnegie. He is a learned man, obsessed with finding a book. A particular book that he has sent vicious groups of murderers out into the world to find and bring back to him. A book which, it would appear, Eli has in his possession: the last remaining Bible. In this world, you see, every Bible has been destroyed because it has been blamed by some of the survivors of the great war for the conflict that burnt a hole in the sky. Eli is a man of faith who wants to find the right place to bring his precious book to, but Carnegie is an ambitious man who believes that inside the Bible are the words he can use to bend people to his will. To Carnegie the Bible is a weapon of unimaginable power.

It’s an interesting premise for a post-apocalyptic movie. I enjoy the fact that this movie has the courage to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions and doesn’t necessarily try to answer them for us. I am not a religious person, but I can understand the power of words, and that’s part of what this movie is about. It doesn’t try to say that the word of God will save anybody. It doesn’t even say that there is one true faith that people have to live by (which is something that definitely runs counter to my beliefs.) Instead it makes a strong case that religious fervor can be as strong a power for evil as for good. Is there something supernatural going on in the movie? It pretty much leaves that up to the viewer to decide, which again is something I loved.

Earlier this week we watched I Am Legend with a powerful performance by Will Smith as the last man in New York City. Denzel Washington’s performance here as Eli has much in common with that. He has a lot of screen time by his lonesome, which is a huge responsibility for an actor, but he never once loses his intensity. There are moments in this film that are painful in their harsh depiction of this devastating future. Watching Eli as he struggles with his own faith is impressive indeed. Denzel gives him a strong sense of justice, of indomitable spirit, of inner peace. Then he has him confront evils that nobody could expect to overcome. It’s a powerful and touching performance.

Opposite him we have Gary Oldman as Carnegie. As always Oldman completely inhabits his role, and there is probably nobody better suited to portray a man obsessed with an idea. Gary Oldman does obsession so very well. He is intimidating and unstoppable and ruthless in all the right ways to counterbalance the quiet, honest and forthright Eli. It ads just the perfect sense of menace and desperation to the film.

And of course there’s the twist I mentioned. I really wouldn’t want to spoil this movie for anybody, but it is wonderfully crafted, and when you reach the end you want to go back and see it again from the beginning to make sense of it. I hadn’t been expecting that, and it was a rare treat to discover that aspect of the movie.

Tonight was the first time I had seen this movie. I was so very impressed, and I hope that has come across in my review. It is gorgeously filmed, filled with interesting characters and some good tension. I loved the twist and the resolution at the end. It may not be perfect (I know for example that Amanda had a lot of trouble swallowing the premise that there were no intact Bibles remaining in the wastelands, given how many people alive today would rather kill than burn their holy books) but it is a movie that encourages you to think and doesn’t rely on presenting simple answers. It’s right up there amongst my favorite post-apocalyptic movies of all time now.

May 21, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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