Have you seen The Book of Eli? Whether you liked it or not, it's hard to deny that the film starring Denzel Washington didn't send your brain on its own journey, especially after the movie's grand twist was revealed. In this latest episode of He Said - He Said, Jeff Bayer and I try to wrap our head around the twist, along with other elements of the film that made the overall experience a bit of surprise. In case you haven't seen it, here's the plot. However, especially for this round, we recommend seeing the film before reading on.
PLOT: In the post-apocalyptic world a man (Washington) walks the Earth with a copy of the Bible. Seen as a valuable way to lead people, an evil man (Oldman) who controls a city looks to take control of the book.
What a great surprise The Book of Eli turned out to be. From its advertisements, it appeared to be a basic post-apocalyptic thriller, with a lead actor that can sell thousands of tickets just by signing up. The previews didn't indicate anything special, and they certainly didn't hint clearly about what was really at the film's heart (religion). So it was all pretty surprising once the film presented itself in its impressive glory. For starters, the film looked great. There were numerous sequences where the action was shot beautifully, and with editing that made the violence cohesive. Usually hand-to-hand combat scenes fall apart because they are indistinguishable - this was not the case here. Second, the acting didn't slump. Denzel proved that he could command a movie with little dialogue and no co-star I Am Legend style, but also provided a fascinating character when those duties were not required. He was classic badass Denzel, but with a more complicated twist. Gary Oldman has always been good at playing the bad guy (Air Force One), and this is no different. His character, Carnegie, is especially smart, which makes him to be a serious force against Denzel's hero. Mila Kunis holds her own as the sidekick to Denzel's character, though her own character isn't a striking as those of Washington or Oldman.
I was surprised to see the film's religious context (I should really have "believed" that bus advertisment) but I enjoyed it immensely. I can imagine that many people would be offput by such a preachy film, but I found many of its ideas about the power of religion to be very striking. The film's script, which is apparently an original, uses religious symbolism to its advantage and provides some wonderful twists and metaphors. Still, those without a religious (particularly a Christian) background will be able to enjoy the first great film of 2010.
How are you not talking about ONE OF THE BIGGEST TWISTS IN YEARS? You just needed something else to talk about besides Avatar, didn't you? The Book of Eli is good, just barely above average for me. I was completely taken by the presence of Washington. Without a doubt, I couldn't see anybody else in that role. Though, now that I have said that, could Bruce Willis still do this? Or how odd would it have been to see Mel Gibson in a post-apocalyptic world all these years later. I've already heard a lot of people talk about the look of the film, but was it any better than The Road? All they did was make sure everything was tan, grey and dusty. Plus, clouds move annoying fast in the future. Oldman was actually disappointing for me. He wasn't smart. Everyone else was just stupid. Big difference. The one thing they brought up that was intriguing was the idea of religion as a weapon. It's a weapon of knowledge, inspiration and potentially the cause of the war in this world (or so they say). But really, it's just an idea that is briefly spoken about, so they have something to do in-between bloody battles. I would have loved more focus on this. For example, if Carnegie was smart, why couldn't he come up with a new religion?
More importantly, let's just get into the real reason why I am here for this He Said - He Said. ELI IS BLIND. Did you see this coming at all? I think it would be impossible. I have so many theories to discuss because of this twist, a twist I don't think everyone will catch.
Perhaps Carnegie thought that people would believe in a religion if there was already a text for it (of which he could claim to be the prophet of). Or, he himself was in awe of the Bible, as someone said it brought about war, and really did see it as a weapon. I wouldn't say this makes him dumb, but a believer - however, the wrong kind of believer.
This comes to point at the beautiful twist, which no, I didn't see coming, but my mind was blown nonetheless. It's a great twist because the clues are all there - he has very sharp hearing, and he even fights in darkness, etc. On top of that, I believe there is some type of "holy assitance" in the movie, like he's a prophet with some entity's agenda. He has a higher being guiding some of his actions and speaking through him (which explains why he has the entire book in his head.) The twist that the book was braille was brilliant, and the symbolism of Carnegie being himself "blind" to the word is just great writing. The "seeing blind man" that was Eli is a clever borrowing from the Bible, and really rounds up all of the religious ideas that are interwoven with "in-between bloody battles." I personally loved each "bloody battle," because of their smoothness (like that one-shot bonanza at the house), and that they contributed to the idea this was meant to feel like a western. Come to think of it, of course the character is a legend, but Washington doesn't make for a bad "Man With No Name." His own version, of course.
What did you think of the twist? And did you really think that the "religion is power" idea was briefly spoken about? It seemed pretty recurring throughout. Though the imagery of "the light" confuses me, because in religious context, wouldn't "seeing the light" be a good thing?
There are two options for the twist of Eli being blind...
1. He believes he's chosen. This would mean he's simply the best blind fighter ever. Sure, a blind man can hear a chainsaw coming at his head, but wouldn't that also mean he couldn't hear the silent knife coming at him at the same time? He also would simply happen to be right about the idea of heading west to Alcatraz. Plus, every move he makes is a confident one, he never stumbles. That would be amazing if all this happened because Eli was crazy and heard a voice.
2. He is chosen. And if he was chosen, it would be the Christian God leading him. So God did speak to him. We never hear him say, "I used to be in the Army." Or anything like that to explain his fighting abilities. God helps. God is not a matter of faith, but a fact in this world. It's just that he's really only officially made his presence known to Eli, so Eli can complete the mission at hand. But here's the thing, this God really doesn't yield that much power, or he just feels like kind of helping Eli out. Think about it. Eli has been walking for 30 years. Why? Because he's blind and doesn't know his way around. That's why he always sticks to roads. Plus, this God doesn't care about each individual life, as he's totally willing to help, or allow Eli to kill. Very old testament. But here's the thing that's nuts ... God helps Eli, Eli succeeds in getting the Bible to the library with a hippie-like man played by Malcolm McDowell in charge. Does the hippie strike you as Christian? Does he seem to think this is the key to getting society back on track? Nope. He's a book nut. Loves them. And he thinks it's exciting to score a bible because they don't have one. And the exciting conclusion to this 30-year odyssey? The book sits on a shelf, in the religious section, next to the Torah. That's it. Solara doesn't strike me as someone who will walk the Earth spreading the gospel. She doesn't have a copy of the book (we don't think). I just figure she's going to try and rescue her mother. So there is no obvious reason why Eli came into the lives of these particular people. There's no reason why God led him to this people, or that town. Did the Torah go through a similar journey to end up on a shelf? Sure, God supposedly works in mysterious ways, but man.
Also, a braille bible would weigh over a hundred pounds and be many volumes (not that I care about this for Eli to be effective).
As far as the "Religion is Power" idea ... I think it was barely spoken about in the sense of what it would mean for these people, in this society. Whatever our idea of the bible is before the movie, that's our idea of the bible after the movie. The film never tries to sell people on the idea that the bible can change a society and exactly how that would work. Plus, there was book burning after the war? Who were the leaders deciding this and why?
I'm not ripping the film here. I love thinking about what it actually means, the twist that I think is impossible to see coming and if it's a smart film at all.
Option two is more logical, and I agree with some of the points you made (as if you haven't noticed, fellow reader, this is a less confrontational episode of "He Said - He Said" this round). I would like to counter some of the things you say about the conclusion of the film, however. Yes, McDowell's character is a book nut, and it will stay on the shelf, but the preservation of A bible is good enough. Now that there is one copy, there's bound to be more. (The whole "printing press prints the bible first" event is a clever reference to the actual history of the printing press, also). And perhaps the Torah went through a similar course of events, with lots of shoot outs and explosions, but it seems that the film believes most in the bible as being the ultimate source of communication to a higher being (who, as you rightfully say, is working in an Old Testament state of mind).
Also, looking over my notes, Eli says "I walk by faith. Not by sight." That line comes before they go to the house, and it might have answered our ponderings.
As for "no obvious reason why Eli came into the lives of these particular people," I'd say there is reason for some. Solara may not speak the gospel, but she's been inspired by Eli in someway, and will rescue her mother, sure. She'll also probably be some crazy "hand of God" who kills the sinners, probably. Either way she is changed. But she won't be a very biblical character, I'd say, especially because she seemed pretty out of it/asleep when Eli was shown reciting the text.
As for the town, well, it was more chance that brought him there, or, we could say, it was his iPod. How did Eli get into the life of Carnegie etc? Because he wanted to hear more soul music. Hmm.
Then the "book burning before the war." I got the feeling that was not by leaders, but just by people who had blamed the events on religion, and had blamed the war on religion. So perhaps godlessness took over once the athiests etc. had reason to believe that religious disputes really could contribute to the end of the world? Either way, I remember a line Carnegie had about the bible, and I'm paraphrasing: "I grew up with the book. People feel for it once, and it will hapen again."
Either way, I have seen The Book of Eli twice now, and I must admit that it does not stand as strongly on a second viewing. The spareness of the action becomes more evident, and the twist itself is a bit more questionable (credit jake). For example, why does Eli always walk in the middle of the road? Can he feel the groove of tar, or something? Is he really THAT good of a shot, especially with a hand gun? After a second time, I'd categorize The Book of Eli as one of those films that's clever on a first round with its twist, but once too much thought goes into it, it's not as shocking. Kind of like Orphan, but that twist didn't have to work as hard to cover itself.
After all I've said, though, I keep thinking of the nun I saw sitting down in the press section at the screening I went to. I would really, really, love to hear what she has to say about this film.