Eli: Its in the back of the TV
Carnegie: Go check the TV!
Henchman: The what?
The Hughes’ brothers 2010 dystopic Western The Book of Eli attempts to be many things; many more things than I will do here in this little write up. What follows are several completely unrelated. spoiler-ridden, and very loose reactions I had after watching Eli tonight.
Growing up, I briefly got into a Western series entitled Legacy – a Western, teen-fic series baptized with Christian overtones. The Preacher, if I’m remembering this right, was the archetypal “Man in Black” that spoke softly (but when he did he quoted Scripture) and carried a hot six-shooter. Driven to get the girl and bring the order of law to a town being controlled by a greedy tyrant, he… well, you get the idea. Preacher always had a Proverb or (eisegeted) phrase of Christ’s to quote to the bad guy, right before the plot drove the Preacher to resolve the tension by killing the bad guy and galloping away on his trusty steed.
It was the perfect amount of testosterone with a spiritual veneer for me as a young teen. However, even then I reacted to a strong dichotomy between the Preacher’s penchant for quoting the Sermon on the Mount right before turning the other
cheek barrel of his shotgun on the baddie. One of the best times was when Preacher brought his Bible and his revolver into the pulpit, extinguishing the baddie by shooting him through(!) the wooden lectern.
That same schizophrenia pervades Eli. This is not biblical Christianity; besides the obvious absence of Christ’s person, work, or even His Name being mentioned, our titular character clearly confuses several important categories. Eli espouses a theology of (blood-soaked) glory, not the cross. The “faith” that is promoted is fideistic and antagonistic to reason, rather than fides quaerens intellectum. What is the power of “the book” here? Eli’s hermeneutic: “Do for others more than you do for yourself.” Not exactly Christocentric, law-gospel categories at work here. In short, this is a baptized Mad Max;
entertaining a-musing to be sure, but not much more. While some (Plugged In) argued that Mila Kunis’ “Solara” was a converted disciple to bring back the good news, notice she returns short a bible, but bearing Eli’s blade of death. I didn’t get the sense she was returning as an ambassador of peace so much as a minister of vengeance. And just in case you weren’t offended by hour and a half of profanity and blood-letting, its ok! – the dictated bible is carefully stored between a Jewish Torah and Islamic Qu’ran. Apparently unlike literally everything else, multiculturalism didn’t die in the apocalypse.
Washington makes a very decent action figure, and Kunis was attractive but deer-eyed in her role; though Oldman really hammed it up. Washington looks hard even in the dystopic future. Movies with a big twist are fun to watch on a second viewing to see how well they hold up. I didn’t have time for that with Eli, and at first I was very skeptical, but I would now guess that going back over the movie would prove fairly consistent. (I think Eli only shot after he was shot at, based on audio. However, both the jail cell discussion with the blind lady and the cemetary scene would be tricky to understand with blindness. Although, I guess if god is leading you everywhere, he can probably solve those small continuity problems as well.) I really liked what little I understood of the cinematography, but the colors were so washed out and my computer screen only added to it.