Recently there’s been a small string of post-apocalyptic tales hitting the theaters with a message that there’s something greater than what we know guiding our actions. There was I am Legend a couple years back and as recently as a few weeks ago with The Road. Now comes The Book of Eli. The world that Eli and (depending on your point of view) fortunate few that has survived the “war” now inhabit is a scary, dangerous environment, filled with cannibals and rape gangs or both(think of Mad Max only much much worse). It’s not the world for the weak. Society as we know has long since crumbled and the need for the simple things that most of us take for granted is worth more than life itself to many.
There aren’t any real specifics as to the who’s, what’s when’s and exactly why’s that the world has turned into what it is. Eli himself fills in some of the gaps which explains why the mysterious book he’s carrying is so valuable, but much is left up to the viewer to interpret the rest for him/herself. All that is known is that a war started culminating in the day of the “flash” as it is called, where everything in the world was scorched, and those who happened to be above surface or not protected in some kind of shelter either died or went blind. As a consequence of the war, the sky is a bitter greenish gray where one can’t go out into the day for very long without sunglasses or risk their own sight.
The overall story that takes place within this setting is slightly familiar, but also has dashes of originality thrown in. The promos for the movie make it look like an action epic, and yes, there is action, some of the best shot and executed in a long time. It’s fast, distinguishable (something that doesn’t happen as much nowadays) and doesn’t drag on and on, which is why it comes out very well. But this movie isn’t an action movie. Truth be told, from memory I can count on one hand the amount of action sequences that take place. When the movie is at its best it’s introspective and thought provoking. It’s never boring, even when it takes its time and hangs around on a scene maybe longer than it should. It also help that the film’s protagonist (Washington) delivers a muted, but very well played and understated performance. Through the half way point of the movie events take place that make it seems that perhaps there’s someone or something that’s guiding Eli, and the road that he travels is a road meant to be traveled upon. While religious overtones abound in the movie, and Eli himself is quite fond of quoting the Bible from time to time, the movie itself doesn’t beat you over the head with it, nor does it talk down to the viewer about it. Instead it makes you think, something many movies just don’t take time to do anymore.
The ending, perhaps the strongest part of the film, is beautifully done. Some will have a hard time accepting a certain plot point that’s revealed at the very end, but to those who believe, it certainly makes sense given what the movie is ultimately about. It’s not overly dramatic, it doesn’t preach and it doesn’t add true closure to some of the characters that Eli meets through the course of the film. One thing it will definitely do is make you think. Think about the place of religion and what could happen if there’s too much in the world…or too little. How it can be used as a weapon for some and as a message of hope by others.