I didn't expect to have much to say about The Book of Eli, the new post-apocalyptic thriller starring Denzel Washington and directed by the Hughes brothers, before going to see it last night. It seemed like it would be your typical January filler genre movie, maybe better than some of the cut-rate horror movies and lowbrow comedies that often come out at this time of year, but mostly forgettable and unremarkable.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this movie is a Bible-thumping (at times literally) bit of religious propaganda, in which Washington's Eli uses his mad decapitation skills to safeguard the world's only remaining King James Bible, which he believes will be the key to humanity's rebirth and salvation. Gary Oldman plays the movie's villain as a man who will do anything to get his hands on the Bible because he believes it will allow him to easily control and manipulate the remaining population, even though no one born since the apocalypse has ever heard of the Bible, Christianity or Jesus. It's a motivation that makes little sense, and it's not like Oldman, chewing up the tattered scenery, takes time to offer any glimpses into his character's inner life.
(Spoilers ahead.) And the movie's clear position is that Eli is right, that the Bible (and by extension Christianity) is the salvation of humanity. Eli derisively notes that all the other Bibles were deliberately destroyed after the apocalypse because "some people" believed they were responsible for the war itself (no word on if other religious texts were subject to the same treatment), but he obviously doesn't believe that. And safeguarding the Bible gives him license to kill and dismember as many people as he likes in an excessively brutal fashion, all in the name of his religious quest. It's clear that Eli isn't meant to seem misguided or delusional; he's been chosen by God, who spoke to him and directed him to where the Bible was, and God is the one who makes him essentially invincible and gives him badass fighting abilities.
Just in case you weren't sure about the message, the ludicrous twist ending reveals that Eli is in fact blind, so it wasn't years of training that allowed him to defeat all those thugs; it was the hand of God Himself guiding Eli to lop off people's limbs and heads. The Hughes brothers don't seem to have really thought through the religious implications of the story, as this interview reveals, and seem to be mostly interested in a badass action movie that appears profound on the surface. The end of the movie shows the newly created Bible placed on a shelf between the Torah and the Koran, and the filmmakers may think that this somehow adds a level of relativism to their story, that it's actually about the power of words or something. But by not having the courage of their convictions (whatever those may be), the Hughes brothers inadvertently press a very closed-minded, reactionary message, and do it in a sickeningly disingenuous way. If only this had been forgettable genre fare instead.
Opens in theaters today.