Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have published best-selling books that speak to their belief that faith and religion poison society. But what would a world devoid of faith and religion look like – a world where all the Bibles have been taken and burned.
“The Book of Eli” is a story about that world. Eli (Denzel Washington) walks a scarred earth. Thirty years before, a hole ripped the sky. It was what some would think of as the apocalypse. The survivors are now either predator or prey, except for a man named Eli. He walks west to fulfill a mission.
He encounters bands of humans who attempt to attack him and steal what he has. But Eli is a warrior with the skill to defeat those who want to stop him. And Eli carries a book – the last of its kind. The Bible.
At one make-shift town, Eli looks for a source to recharge a battery he’s carrying. His journey and mission are challenged when he enters an old movie theater that’s now a bar.
In the bar is the town’s boss, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who knows that words have power and convey knowledge. Carnegie runs the town with an iron fist and a dream. He wants to start other towns and recreate society, with him as lord and master.
After Eli triumphs in a battle with Carnegie’s men, Carnegie wants Eli to work for him. He tempts him with liquor and a woman (Mila Kunis), but Eli will have nothing to do with either – or Carnegie.
When the woman, Solara, comes to his room, Eli offers to share his food with her. He has her sit down and he prays a blessing over the meal. She realizes this man is different from other men. Solara sees the Bible and asks about it, but Eli quickly hides it.
Carnegie believes having the Bible will give him the words to rule by. He knows there’s power in it, power in the words, and he wants it for that power. Eli knows this and fights to protect it. His mission, his ministry, is to take the Bible west to a place where God wants it to be. Eli does not know where that is, but he walks by faith and not by sight.
“The Book of Eli,” like many sermons, is not perfect. But Paul says God uses the foolishness of the preaching of sermons to save those that are perishing. The Hughes brothers, the directors, use this pulpit of film to tell us about our current circumstances and to call us to wake up.
Before the end, Eli tells Solara, people had too much and didn’t know how to appreciate it. Is that not a message that the current economic downturn is teaching us?
Another message: We are too cavalier in our handling of the Bible. Do we hide its words in our hearts? What would we do if we did not have it? More importantly, what is our world experiencing because of our lack of living out the message it contains?
Carnegie represents those who would take the Bible and use it for their own ends. Are there not others who have done likewise?
The movie’s most powerful message is this: God’s message is not stopped in the face of even the end of the world as we know it. It continues on.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA rating: R for some brutal violence and language. Reviewer’s note: It is extremely violent and has graphic language.
Directors: Albert and Allen Hughes
Writer: Gary Whitta
Cast: Denzel Washington: Eli; Gary Oldman: Carnegie; Mina Kunis: Solara; Jennifer Beals: Claudia; Tom Waits: Engineer; Ray Stevenson: Redridge.
The movie’s official Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.