Book of Eli (2010 movie) review…

The Book of Eli (2010 movie) review after the break…

The Book of Eli (2010 movie) review…

There is an old urban legend about a library being built. The library was beautifully constructed in every possible facet except for one tiny detail. When the library was designed, no one had taken into account the weight of the books that were to be placed inside the library. As a result of this oversight, the library eventually sank into it’s foundation, making the entire building unusable.

The Book of Eli is a 2010 movie starring Denzel Washington as a post-apocalyptic survivor named “Eli” who carries what is presumably the last “good book” around, in a quest to “head West” towards an ill-defined destiny. Gary Oldman plays his nemesis, Carnegie, a man obsessed with acquiring the book even if it is at great expense towards himself and his legacy.

Eli is a man not to be trifled with – Early on, he easily dispatches a group of cannibals attempting to ambush him during a silhouetted action scene that is tastefully composed using a weapon best described as a cross-between a machete, a combat knife and a short sword. However, he never strikes first and makes every reasonable attempt to avoid the fights so common in the post-apocalyptic environment.

After an unavoidable bar fight where Eli dispatches an illiterate biker gang ordered by Carnegie to find a particular book (oh, the irony…), he is forced to stay the evening by a curious Carnegie. During the stay, Carnegie learns that Eli has “the book” and the chase is on to acquire it by any means necessary.

The movie makes a poor attempt to hide the book’s identity: It is the Bible – Part rulebook, part history text for the Christian religion. Thirty years removed from “The Flash” (a term in the movie meant to be what caused the disaster resulting in the post-apocalyptic setting), the good book seems to have become rather endangered to the point of being extinct. Carnegie wants the book so that he can expand his dusty dominion, possibly into an empire.

There is a lot to like about this movie – Shot in almost sepia, depressing¬† tones, the dusty, sandy wasteland is barren of color and hope. Eli is a mysterious figure who seems supernaturally protected from harm throughout most of the movie. Two underlying messages about the movie – That obsession destroys regardless of intent and morality is it’s own reward, are both noble messages are surprisingly effective within the limits of the movie. The action sequences are more then serviceable if a bit sparse for a movie that advertised itself as an action film.

Yet, unfortunately, the foundation of this film is fundamentally flawed – A flaw that is irreversibly weaved into the very fabric of the story. The premise that the Bible is an extinct text only 30 years removed from an unprecedented disaster is laughable at best and irritatingly ignorant at worst. Granted, all fictional movies deserve an amount of leniency but such leniency is not granted without work from the script – We all know that “The Force” from the Star Wars franchise doesn’t exist in real life but the franchise makes an effort to show us that it not only does but provides a history. In “Book of Eli,” we are not shown such courtesy but merely told that the book has become quite rare without any effort from the script to physically demonstrate it. Eli doesn’t walk past any burning piles of books or cross paths with people bent upon destroying books or even the Bible.

This fundamental flaw in logic erodes any long-lasting goodwill that the rest of the movie attempts to build. Gary Oldman’s character devolves from being diabolical to merely looking like an evil Roy Orbison as he hobbles his way across the barren landscape. Couldn’t this villain have simply made up his own religion, as a certain unnamed fictional writer from the 1950’s did? Religion is a product of it’s time as all other products are – Would modern-day Bible-Thumping even work in a post-apocalyptic land where cannibals are a viable threat to a person’s well-being? Without engaging in a religious conversation, religion is often imposed upon a population, not willingly embraced.

So much of the movie’s details are ruined because of the fundamental flaw that it is almost heartbreaking – Details such as a constant reference to look at ones’ hands to see if someone suffers the effects of cannibalism or even the act of fetching clean water or that, upon reaching the coast, the landscape almost magically turns from dusty brown to bright green.

This film would’ve better been served had both men possessed the Bible but each used it to different effect – Eli to help others and eschew repayment while Carnegie imposed it upon others from a balcony and enforced by thugs.

It is almost silly to reveal Eli’s “other secret” because it already compounds upon the film’s fundamental flaw of forcing the viewer to believe that the Bible is in danger of never having existed. A fortification at the end of the film is also in demand of a Bible – A fortification which is shown to seemingly have EVERY OTHER religious doctrine imaginable!

“The Book of Eli” has a great look, makes a few great points (especially the part about how obsession alone can destroy) and yet it all seems washed out when it can’t convince viewers of it’s main tenant that the Bible doesn’t exist in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s like attempting to make people believe that it was really Germany that bombed Pearl Harbor. You could certainly make a great attempt at it but you wouldn’t get very far. Without a believable foundation, The Book of Eli doesn’t get very far, either.


4 Responses to “Book of Eli (2010 movie) review…”

  1. Osbo Says:


    You know, I was willing to grant it its premise that people believed religion to be the cause of wars, as some believe that now. Therefore religious texts of all faiths were taken.

    My problem stemmed from his supernatural protection. Now, most of it I was willing to grant as “great faith” can lead to great determination. Surviving a bullet wound, getting out of problems through sheer will. But when luck clearly plays a part, not only does the film make a specific statement about a specific god, it also makes its main character invulnerable. Luckily, this isn’t completely clear until near the end.

    Until then, it’s a great film.

    Yet the film has about 10 endings one right after the other.

  2. Lutonaut Says:

    Thank you for reading my blog.

    Again, there were some nice elements in this film but it was all undercut by the fact that the film could not establish it’s premise – That the Bible was a book hunted to extinction. With all fictional movies, people must allow themselves a certain suspension of disbelief: We must believe that “The Force” exists in the Star Wars franchise, that ghosts exist (and can be seen by people) for “The Sixth Sense” to work… But the filmmakers must ESTABLISH these premises. George Lucas had to show the Jedi’s superhuman attributes and “The Sixth Sense” had to painstakingly adhere to a certain set of rules so that people could go back and say, “Ah ha! So he never moved that chair” or “You never see him open that door.”

    Why couldn’t there have been a scene where Eli passes a burning pile of Bibles and other assorted books? Or people destroying religious places of worship? Ransacking them? Burning down the houses of priests? Anything to ESTABLISH the premise that, for 30 years, the remainder of society has been hunting down and destroying the BILLIONS of bibles that are circulating throughout the world? Yes, people need to suspend their disbelief but the viewer can’t do it all on their own – The filmmakers have to pull some of that weight as well. It just didn’t happen here.

    Granted, I didn’t touch on a few other vast loopholes in logic that this film possess, namely, that a Bible written in Braille is pretty darn huge and no way can it be carried by someone. Or that the film never establishes whether or not Eli is truly protected by a deity or not. Or even the sudden appearance of the society on Alcatraz (I’m sure that Malcolm McDowell had sleepless nights studying for THAT role).

    In the end, I take away this lesson from the film – Without viewers placing full faith in your premise, you have no story. Eli being blind, the Bible being in Braille, Oldman obsessing over religion… All of these are rendered moot because the writers couldn’t craft a story to convince people of their main premise.

    Again, thank you for reading my blog.

  3. Osbo Says:

    I agree with what you say – that it would have been more effective if it were established visually, but I found it interesting I found fault in other things. I also didn’t quite get that Eli was blind -that never felt established to me – just that he read braille.

    From what they said, this was many years ago when they burned these things.

    It’s from a book with a particularly christian bent to begin with. It falls within christian mythology that they are persecuted for faith. So it wouldn’t take much to make that premise believable for that intended audience.

  4. Osbo Says:

    Oh, and no need to thank me for reading your blog – you’ve been a member of my RSS reader for a long tie.

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