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Monday, June 28, 2010

The preview got me.  The scene was pure apocalypse.  Stylized tones, not quite sepia, more a copper-toned beige.  The landscape – barren; desert wasteland, but not really.  The absence of shrubs or trees or gardens was not because this is an arid sand dune.  Rather, some shocking sort of massive incineration scorched the land as far as the eye can see.

A sole pedestrian moves across the screen, wearing sunglasses and layered, tattered clothing.  He is reminiscent of a homeless wanderer roaming the mean streets of the city; but here, any trace of the city was gone.  His path is not random.  This man is on a mission.  A close up on the face brings recognition – it is Denzel Washington behind those shades in the role of a lone man heading west.  Why and where remain a mystery that will unfold as the story is told.

The trailer got me interested and curious.  So I rented the DVD.  The Book of Eli intrigued me and held my attention from the opening scenes.  Be forewarned: the film earns its rating (“R”) for language and violence.  Be also forewarned that I’ll be giving away some of the key elements of the story in the next few paragraphs.  So there are two reasons to stop reading now.  Well… come to think of it, I want you to read at least this one more sentence:  Strange as it may seem, the Book of Eli delivers a highly biblical message.

In Eli’s foreboding world, Planet Earth has been the victim of a (in Bill Murray’s unforgettable phrase from Ghostbusters) “disaster of biblical proportions.”  As the camera pans the horizon, following Eli down a deserted highway or over a ridge, you see the wreckage.  There are immense craters that indicate meteor hits, random and catastrophic.  There are rotting jumbo jets in the sand, broken into pieces in attempted crash landings long ago.  The countryside is littered with the wreckage of burned out vehicles, cars and trucks, all abandoned and not a human being in sight.  If you let yourself connect the dots, you’ll think of “Left Behind” or “2012” but this movie doesn’t feel cornball or mainstream epic blockbuster.  The Hughes brothers (co-directors) are more in the mode of those Cohen brothers and their Fargo or No Country for Old Men.  It is highly stylized with graphic violence and intensity.  And you can’t help but wonder – who is Eli?  What happened?  Where is he going?  And what’s this about “the Book”?

Eli established himself as a fearless warrior who will not initiate violence, but will defend himself against all aggression.  His ferocity in battle is unmatched.  In the grim aftermath of global disaster, he gets the attention of a local warlord named Carnegie who is searching the territory for one particular book.  Carnegie learns through his girlfriend’s daughter, Solara, that Eli is in possession of a mysterious volume.  Eli is secretive and protective.  The two survivors are matched antagonists – the aggressor versus the defender.

But what is the Book?  And why is it so consequential?  And where is Eli going, anyway?

Well, here it comes: the Book is the Bible.  The New King James Version of the Bible, to be precise.  Eli quotes it to Solara.  “That’s beautiful,” she says.  She’s never heard of it, much less familiar with its contents.  When Carnegie figures out that Eli has a copy of the Bible, he sets everything else aside and races in hot, violent pursuit to wrest the leather-bound, latched book away from Eli.  We soon learn that Carnegie is convinced that possession of the Bible will secure his position as high priest of the territory he rules by brute force.

Eli is ready.

The premise of this mainstream film is that the massive cataclysm that impacted the globe thirty years before had something to do with predictions that were made in the Bible.  All of the Bibles worldwide where destroyed in the disaster; Eli’s copy is the only one remaining.  He has been entrusted with the volume and called to deliver the Book somewhere west.

A good friend of mine, John Frye, has written his own work of fiction that raises a similar point.  In his narrative, he imagines a day when the Scriptures disappear from the scene entirely and conjectures just how it might impact our society, culture and our personal lives.  He calls his book Out of Print.

The surprise ending of The Book of Eli I’ll not give away.  But for now, just know that Denzel Washington takes the lead in a science fiction action thriller that essentially views the Bible as a sacred text that is essential to our life on Planet Earth.

That sacred text can certainly be abused by the likes of Carnegie and his ilk.

If you do take time to watch the film, you’ll see that that same sacred text will cause the blind to see, bring hope and comfort to the helpless and give a man who has no more to lose a purpose for staying alive.

A mission, if you will.

Copyright 2010 Kenneth E Kemp

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