This is one of my top 5 favorite films of all time.
~~Originally posted on August 6, 2017~~
Sometimes, really good movies aren’t just something you watch – they’re something that happens to you. The first time I saw this past week’s movie it was quite an experience – mostly because it was a spontaneous decision, and I had no clue what it was about as I walked into the theater. It was a cold night in February of 2010, and I had gone to the movies to escape the rest of my life for a couple of hours. I used to do that more often when I lived around a lot of people. I couldn’t explain why, but sometimes I would just feel a need to get away, to be alone, to not have to talk to anyone, to rest and think. I’ve since learned that this is normal introvert behavior. That particular night my house had filled up with so many people that I couldn’t move. I was standing in the kitchen, watching as wave after wave of college students began devouring the meal I had spent half the day preparing. I was glad for my part in feeding them, and felt a deep satisfaction in my soul – and also an intense urge to quietly exit through the backdoor that I had been slowly pushed up against. So I did. And 10 minutes later I was sitting in an almost empty theater waiting to see what in the world The Book of Eli was about.
The movie pulled me in really slowly as it introduced me to Denzel Washington’s character (Eli) – a man walking alone through a post apocalyptic wasteland, bedding down for the night in some old shack as he carefully stokes to life the remaining juice in a scratched and scarred generation one iPod. He’s listening to Al Green’s – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, and it contains the first words you hear in the movie, providing the background chorus to the drama about to unfold on the screen. It tells us what is going on inside this strange character we’re being introduced to – it’s a very sad lament – the honest prayer of a man who has had his heart ripped out, and is desperately crying out for a reason to keep going. The song reflects the scarred over wounds we see on Eli’s body as he changes his shirt and settles in for the night.
Eventually you learn that Eli has been carrying something of great value for the past 30 years – the last remaining Bible to exist in North America. There had been some kind of war in the past that ended with the victors destroying all the rest of them. Conflict ensues when Eli encounters the villain of the story, a crafty warlord named Carnegie – played by Gary Oldman – who just so happens to be in search of a Bible. Every day he sends out raiding parties to scour the surrounding wastelands in the hope of finding one. When these two characters meet each other, all Hell literally breaks loose.
I won’t venture into much more detail about the plot, but at the core of this film is the examination of something that Christianity has had to wrestle with since the 4th century when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and something it’s still dealing with today – the clash between genuine religious experience and the perversion of it by political entities that seek to use religion as a tool of manipulation to gain or maintain power over people. At the time, I was getting my Master’s Degree in Church History (which is also an examination between these two opposing forces), and I found it very impressive that the history of Christianity was so elegantly captured and personified through the drama unfolding between these two movie characters.
Carnegie’s christianity is political. Eli’s is personal. Carnegie wants to use the Bible to gain more power over people. Eli wants to find a place where people have the freedom to discover the Bible on their own terms. Carnegie wants to use it like a weapon to manipulate the masses. Eli wants to preserve its integrity as a beacon of hope. In the middle of this conflict is Solara – the adopted daughter and slave of Carnegie. It’s her character that brings hope and brightness into the story as she escapes the abusive confines of her home to follow after Eli and eventually latch onto the same almighty power that drives him.
When the credits rolled I couldn’t believe what I had seen. I think it’s very very difficult for filmmakers to make a religious-themed movie that is not only well done, but that doesn’t come across as cheesy, or that doesn’t entirely miss the point of what faith is even about. I shudder inside when I think of all the bad – and I mean terrible – Christian movies that elevate mediocrity and overall suckiness to an art form. And thankfully, the twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes made one that rises above that kind of canned nonsense.
I didn’t just watch their film that night all those years ago – I felt it.
And that is why I give The Book of Eli 5 Coffstars , 4 Coff-buds , 2 Coff-tickets , 2 hallelujah amens , and 1 cat-kabob