Post-Apocalyptic films don’t really interest me. Believe it or not, I have not seen any of the Mad Max movies in their entirety despite being loco (at least, for a time) over Mel Gibson. But if I’m a fan of Mel Gibson, I’m a bigger fan of Denzel Washington although his films that I like best (John Q and Man on Fire) are not ones for which he won awards. And on the strength of being a Denzel Washington fan, I watched The Book of Eli with an open mind.
The Book of Eli takes place some 30 years after the Apocalypse. Signs of destruction and decay are everywhere. The land is dry and barren. The opening scene shows a man hunting for food. Eli (Washington) is traveling on foot to the western coast of the United States. He carries a thick leather-bound book which he reads regularly. Most of the initial scenes are testaments to his uncanny survival skills — hunting, fighting, killing and, especially, his ability to “smell” the presence of threat.
Eli arrives at a town where the boss (in the tradition of a mayor with a private army) Carnegie (Gary Oldman) lives with a blind woman, Claudia (Jennifer Beals — yes, of Flashdance fame) and her daughter, Solara. Carnegie is obsessed with finding a book which, he has heard, is a source of great power. Sent by Carnegie to seduce and spy on Eli, Solara discovers him reading a book with a cross on the cover.
So, at this point, the religious theme of the film becomes evident. You start surmising whether the book is a copy of the Bible and you wonder about its legendary power that Carnegie talks about. It is also around this time when you hear fresh theories about the Apocalypse when Carnegie mentions stories that it was that very book that led to the Apocalyptic war.
A fresh approach, no doubt. Although, throughout history, religion has been the cause of war, destruction and loss of millions of lives, that religion would actually lead to the Apocalypse — at least, in the context of the Book of Revelations in the Bible — is something new.
The freshness of the perspective makes the film interesting especially when combined with bits of trivia that are both amusing and frightening. That water would be a valuable commodity in a post-Apocalyptic state is a common enough theme. But wet tissues — and with the KFC logo at that? In Eli’s time, money has ceased to be in use and people bartered with things like wet tissues. Amusing as well is Eli’s possession of an iPod which he takes pains to make sure got regularly charged.
Apart from these, you have to be a huge believer in miracles to swallow the rest of the plot.
Eli leaves town to continue his mission to travel westward. Solara sneaks out after him. On the road, she learns that Eli has been walking westward for 30 years to deliver the book based on instructions from a voice inside his head — a mission based on faith and nothing else.
Meanwhile, Carnegie and his henchmen run after them in a convoy. A shootout and a lot of explosions follow and, to breeze through the testosterone part, Carnegie gets the book and Eli is shot at close range in the torso and falls to the ground.
Solara is stuffed into a vehicle and the convoy heads back to town when Solara strikes back and commandeers a vehicle. She goes back for Eli but finds him gone. Driving on, she finds him walking on the side of the road — with the bullet in his torso. Told you, you have to believe in miracles to swallow the rest of the movie.
Solara and Eli arrive at the West coast which is green with vegetation. The West, it seems, is governed by authorities ensconced at the Alcatraz (don’t know whether or not that was funny) where there is a collection of books that survived the war. Eli’s mission ends with his delivery of the only surviving copy of the King James Bible. Oh, but didn’t Carnegie get the book after the shootout? Sure, he did. But Eli had memorized the entire Bible and he recites it so it could be reprinted.
The scene shifts and Carnegie finally gets a lock picker to open the book. It is useless to him though because it is in Braille and Claudia refuses to read it to him.
So, there. Eli is blind which sort of explains his finely-honed sense of smell and hearing. It kinda explains what makes him such a skilled fighter but, from another perspective, his being blind makes everything he has done in earlier scenes even more incredible. And so you go and shift to the faith perspective once again — otherwise, nothing makes sense.
I didn’t hate The Book of Eli. Though I didn’t like it either. It was a strange experience watching a weird story unfold. Not weird in a philosophical sense or with philosophical undertones (like The Matrix) which can really be mind stimulating. No, The Book of Eli is just plain weird and you get the feeling that some religious (Christian, in fact) agendum is being forced on you and you’re not supposed to know it’s being done.