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Film Review: The Book of Eli

Set in a bleak future reminiscent of The Road Warrior saga, The Book of Eli follows one man’s adventurous and mysterious journey across America. The story begins without explaining anything—why the world is desolate, where the man is going, or the purpose of the book he carries with him. Over the course of the film, the viewer is spoon-fed details of the backstory: the earth was struck by a gigantic meteor which killed or crippled most of earth’s humans, triggered hot, arid weather conditions, and shortened water supplies. In the thirty years since the catastrophe, Eli, the protagonist, has been travelling with a book, revealed to be the last known copy of the Bible. His divine mission is to take the book and “go west”.

Along the way, Eli stumbles across a small town looking remarkably like an old western movie set, complete with a crooked leader name Carnegie, and his band of dutiful and stereotypically dim-witted ruffians. Carnegie discovers that Eli has the Book, and—believing it to possess magical qualities that would give him power to control the world—tries to forcibly take it from him. Time after time, Eli fights back with surprising physical prowess, effortlessly defeating groups of men half his age.

When Carnegie eventually manages to steal the Book, Eli continues his trek seemingly unfazed. In the mind of the viewer, this act raises several questions which are ultimately answered through a series of unexpected twists.

The Book of Eli is filled with spiritual metaphors. Eli’s life can be viewed in some ways as analogous to the spiritual battles that Jesus followers face every day.

The film depicts Eli as having undisputable faith in God, regardless of his circumstances. Several times in the story, Eli battles between his physical or mental will and his perceived spiritual mission. He reminds himself to “Stay on the path” to complete his mission, but the temptations he faces challenge him on every level—and sometimes he succumbs to them.

Eli’s faith is also put to the test. Just after he says that God is good all the time, Carnegie replies, “Not all the time”, and then physically injures Eli, effectively rubbing salt in his wound. This turn of events does not deter Eli’s faith; he remains resolutely committed to God.

The Book itself plays a significant role in the film. It is viewed by both Carnegie and Eli as being powerful, albeit for different reasons. Eli quotes from the Bible to comfort a woman, and he often recites Scripture to express his present circumstances. In his mind, the Scriptures boil down to “doing more for others than you do for yourself”. Near the end of the film, Eli reflects on his life and admits to failing at times to keep the message of the Book.

As these examples illustrate, Eli experiences the frustrations, discouragements and difficulties that all Jesus followers face at times, and he is far from perfect; but he is humble enough to acknowledge his weaknesses and bow to the sovereignty of God.

(Spoiler alert)
After Eli’s mission is completed, the film closes with a sense of irony. A young woman who accompanies Eli to his destination decides to go back to Carnegie’s small town—presumably to share the Word of God. Thus, an unlikely person from a no-name town brings Good News to many.

Sounds a lot like a young man I heard about from the village of Nazareth.

If you are able to overlook some obscenities that are thrown around during this film (although not from Eli), and several scenes of violence, you may glean much more than simple entertainment from The Book of Eli. It just might challenge you to “stay on the path” as a follower of Jesus.

Four out of five stars

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