The Book of Eli
May 26, 2010 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Am I reading the move the Book of Eli correctly?

I've seen several people assert that the Book of Eli is a Christian film, including Fox News, but this rings extremely hollow, especially since the authors have said they did not intend the movie as a Christian story.

We know the movie's apocalypse was caused by nuclear-like weapons. Americans then burned all their bibles because Christianity was blamed for starting the war. I'd imagine the movie was written during the Bush v2 presidency when people were discussing his election by the most extreme Christians, including the Rapturists, as well as Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, but they never say if the other side is Islamic, Communists, etc.

There are exactly two overtly Christian characters in the film :

(1) The protagonist Eli is a blind man carrying a brail bible to the archivists on alcatraz who are duplicating and saving books. Eli has superhuman hearing like a bat or dolphin, which appears miraculous, but not exactly beyond the powers any kung-fu movie would invent for their protagonists, plus the authors are constrained by hiding his blindness from the audience thought all the combat. Eli clearly attributes his abilities and good fortune to god's guidance, but he isn't guided that well when not fighting : he takes wrong turns down collapsed highways, often gets lost taking 30 years to walk across the country, etc. So viewers are free to accept Eli's divine explanation, but they're not forced.

(2) The antagonist Carnegie has established a stable but vile town. He wants a bible because making himself the priest-leader will help him establish and rule more towns. Carnegie is a christian "raised on" the bible who seems unwilling to rule by other religious texts or write his own. Carnegie's abuse of his 'wife' echos the gender roles or 'family values' put forward by christian fundamentalists.. and Carnegie never sins aside from murder.

There isn't any indication that the preservationist to whom Eli ultimately dictates his bible view the work as more significant than any other ancient mythology, indeed the work is shelved in the end, not placed on an alter or read by priests. I doubt that Solara becomes a missionary by taking up Eli's weapons after he dies since she says she's going home, also she does not obviously take a bible.

To me, the executive summary is : The last honest Christian chooses to prevent the formation of a new Christian church, instead consigning the bible to archivists where it'll become like the other ancient mythologies, respected but not literally believed. And that's obviously compatible with the modern "I believe in god but not organized religion" sentiments one hears from so many people.

Am I missing any relevant plot points here?
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
An alternate interpretation could be ... The last honest Christian -- who name, Eli, infers a role as a prophet -- refuses to hand over the Bible to someone that would pervert it for his own use. He has higher aims for its use -- the blind man can "see" its real value, where Carnegie (whose name isn't an accident) sees it only through a lens of greed.

But the blind man, ironically, cannot see that he is entrusting it to people who also cannot "see" its true value.

But besides that ... Eli recites the Bible from memory, and the Alcatraz people start printing copies. It's not tossed aside at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:45 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know, but at least one writer working for the Christian Broadcasting Network thinks "audiences will discover a compelling story filled with more biblical references and Christian thought than any other major motion picture in recent years."

Does that make it a Christian film? Maybe not a proselytizing one, but it heavily depends on notions of Christian ideas. It also seems to makes the case that people want and need the bible.
posted by artlung at 6:49 PM on May 26, 2010

Everyone who knew what the Bible said was killed in the "Flash", an apocalypse featuring nuclear-like devastation with no radioactive side effects? Yeah. That's not a war; that's the Rapture.

Other stuff, like the fact that the person literally chosen by God to deliver the only existing bible in the world is completely invulnerable and unstoppable so long as he maintains the faith of his divine mission, it's all icing on that cake. It's not strictly a Christian movie, so much as it is a premillennial dispensationalist Christian-evangelical porno.
posted by mhoye at 6:53 PM on May 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just fyi, the radiation from nuclear fallout decays exponentially with "most areas becoming fairly safe for travel and decontamination after three to five weeks" (wikipedia). Isn't this movie set over 30 years after the apocalypse? I'd assume the initial survivors were far more numerous than during the film, but their life expectancies were drastically reduced by the radiation.

I noticed the movie play around several other supernatural themes without ever declaring them supernatural. In particular, I kept expecting mutants or zombies after all the examining people's hands, but we got a cannibalistic old couple suffering from roughly mad-cow disease.

You might check out the screenplay for details too, which is text searchable. The term "flash" only appears as "You get caught in a flash?" A war is mentioned exactly twice, both vaguely. I'm not feeling the religious nut vibe from either the writer or the directors, but who knows.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:29 PM on May 26, 2010

It really came across as sneaky Christian propaganda. The movie is constructed to play up the Bible as a beautiful and powerful object, which transmits this power and beauty to those who understand it. At the same time, it tries to acknowledge that yes, many "so-called" Christians and priests and Churches are in fact mere political entities, who use the power of this object to further their own earthly goals. There were at least two scenes in the movie that really played up the innate power of the book - I can't recall right now, although I think one was in the burnt out water-condenser. Those scenes really served to emphasize that the book was not just something special to Eli, but something that truly did have magical powers that only he understood and used correctly.

Finally, the whole point of the movie, to me, seems to be that the Bible and "true" Christianity are eternal and will withstand any attempts at eradication.
posted by molecicco at 12:32 AM on May 27, 2010

Contrary point of view here: I think the movie was more about what religion means to different people, rather than the power of any one religion. Eli loved the book and it moved him to do great things and be strong; the Gary Oldman character wanted to use the book to manipulate people, and the film was clear on the point that he definitely could have done so if he had acquired it.

To me, the movie painted Christianity in a negative light as much as a positive one - it can be a good or a bad thing depending on what it is used for.
posted by jbickers at 5:10 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought the most unbelievable thing about the whole movie was the assertion that ALL the bibles were rounded up and destroyed except for Eli's. What? Are you kidding me? They looked in every attic? Every garage? Every house stranded out in the woods? I call BS.

This New Yorker article says that 25 million copies of the bible were 2005 alone. So after the Flash you are telling me that the survivors had nothing better to do than round up millions and millions and millions of bibles?
posted by ian1977 at 6:41 AM on May 27, 2010

Well, anything can have multiple interpretations. But it definitely seemed to me it was intended to have a Christian theme.

In the movie the bible functions as the McGuffin, an arbitrary object that all the characters want to get their hands on. In different films the McGuffin can be a bag of money, a diamond, a microfilm or whatever.

So, it was necessary for the plot that the baddie Carnegie wanted the bible. But I think his motivation was that he just wanted the "words", i.e. some catchy phrases that he could use to solidify his power. I don't think he was supposed be trying to create a Christian state.

I did think that motivation was unconvincing, but I think it's just sloppy writing: they just couldn't think of a better motivation. I would have thought that to a Christian, any bits of the bible he started propagating would have been better than nothing. But presumably Carnegie's plan was supposed to pervert or distort the text somehow.

It may depend on the different opinions of the different Christian sects. To Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the bible is best interpreted by priests who are part of a living tradition passed from Jesus to Saint Peter. So, if the bible is instead interpreted by a villain like Carnegie, it could be harmful. But to many Protestants, the text of the bible is sufficient on its own. So I would expect them to see a bible propagated by Carnegie as a force for good.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:37 AM on May 27, 2010

I just noticed the screenplay linked above differs from the movie. In particular, there is a scene where Carnegie is actually preaching on pages 20 and 21, which I definitely don't remember from the movie.

I'd conclude that Carnegie was originally intended as a Christian dictator, well I got that vibe off just his dialog with Eli, but they cut his character development to either save screen time or avoiding angering the fundies.

Ironically, they might have made more money if they'd just gone after all the free advertising of a fundie boycott, rather than the obviously wishy washy story they told. It'll still be funny though if the fundies end up buying the directors cut only to find the bad guy doing all the preaching and hallelujah. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 11:11 AM on May 27, 2010

Gary Whitta, the writer, has been a long-time staple on the PC Gamer Podcast, which I have listened to a lot in the past few years. Recently he's been on it less because he's been busy doing screenplays, but if you wanted a definitive answer as to the intent behind the film, you might consider tracking him down through PC Gamer Magazine in America. They may or may not forward your email and he may or may not answer, but it's worth giving it a shot if this is really bothering you.
posted by Sully at 10:32 PM on May 27, 2010

I just watched the movie last night...I was a little distracted while the movie was on and had no clue he was blind until I saw the Bible was in Braille. Probably will have to get the book and compare.

I was completely lost and still am.

A couple of thoughts though....the being lost for thirty five years is probably an allusion to the Hebrews being led in the desert. It probably would take a thirty five years to memorize the whole King James Bible. (If you could.) In the Church this ability would be called a charism.

The fact that the Bible was locked is right from scripture..St. Matthew--to you is given the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to them it is not.

Solara (the Sun)=The Son That's all I can think of right now...I've got it for another day so I'll try and watch it again.

.......So after the Flash you are telling me that the survivors had nothing better to do than round up millions and millions and millions of bibles?

ian, to most of the "Christian World" reading the Bible is the most important thing they do because we believe it is the Word of God and it is alive. In particular, the power of the Bible is released when it is read aloud.

But this goes back to the concept of the Braille can't even know that Christ was the Lord unless you have a grace from God.
posted by AuntieRuth at 4:46 AM on June 28, 2010

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