Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

The Book of Eli

September 17th, 2010

I wanted to see this movie from the moment I saw the beautiful cinematography in the trailer—and once I decide I’m going to watch a movie, I try to avoid all reviews and opinions so I can come to it fresh. So I didn’t know much about it going in, except that it involved a post-apocalyptic setting and perhaps, a reawakening of religion, probably Christian.

Last night I finally had a chance to watch it, and oh my, was I disappointed. No . . . it was worse than that. This movie left me furious with the usual lament: Why spend so much money, why spend so much talent, and not include more than a snippet of actual story?

* * * WARNING: Everything after the jump is a spoiler * * *

First, the things I liked:
• The opening scene—white ash falling like snow between the dead, blackened trunks of a burned out forest.
• Cannibals identified by their trembling hands
• Denzel
• The cinematography
• The sanctuary set on Alcatraz

My objections are basically simple ones . . .

Serious world-building issues:
The opening scene seems to imply the disaster was recent, maybe within the last year or two, but later in the movie we learn it’s been thirty-one years since the world died. There is a hairless cat in this scene, seeming to imply radiation poisoning, but no one else seems to suffer from radiation poisoning (granted, we’re never actually told this was a nuclear war). Later in the movie a night is spent in the abandoned cooling tower of a nuclear power plant. I was just hoping it had been responsibly shut down and abandoned.

What were people who weren’t cannibals eating? Canned goods, presumably, though I don’t think I ever saw any. Can a man survive in those conditions with just a little canteen of water? Shouldn’t there be greater weather implications, great sand storms burying the remaining housing, covering the roads?

Plants don’t grow in the landscape we see for most of the movie, presumably because of excess ultraviolet light, but they grow on the coast. It would be interesting if someone wondered why.

Does it take thirty-one years to walk across North America? Probably not.

Little things count for a lot. Someone on IMDB pointed out that KFC finger wipes dry out after a few months. I would like to point out that anyone who went to the trouble of making beautiful, effective arrows would certainly retrieve them from the dead body of an enemy, especially when it would be easy and safe to do so. I don’t know why, but this simple lapse really annoyed me. And come to think of it, I’m not sure where that bow was when it wasn’t in use, though it’s possible I wasn’t paying attention and missed it.

There were other things, but enough.

The second aspect that really bothered me was
Sparseness of story :
Re-creating Mad Max is not sufficient as a story. Been there, done that. It was kind of fun way back when. But The Book of Eli is about a man who has heard the voice of God, who is protected by God, who is on a mission from God. There is so much story potential in that and instead we are treated to tedious conflict involving the stereotypical megalomaniac dictator of a small town. Why no one bothers to put a bullet through his heart I don’t know. He’s not the only one who knows where the water is, after all. For awhile I had hopes we would be treated to an actual, meaningful conversion experience, when the megalomaniac’s lieutenant seemed to consider that maybe Denzel did have a relationship with God. But no. Everyone bad is utterly bad to the bone, and no one can be saved or can reconsider their path in life. Sigh.

So. Yes. We get a Mad Max remake when the story provides so much ground for questioning and pondering God and humankind and faith and free will and on and on. Did God cause the war? Did people? Did God allow the war to happen? What is the place of God in this post-apocalyptic setting? Is it the same God that came before? What went wrong before? No one bothers to ask.

Instead we hear that “some people thought books like these caused the war,” so religious books were burned. Eli has the last copy of the Bible and delivers his “copy” to a sanctuary on Alcatraz, where it joins a collection of other famous texts from different religions, and now everything is going to be okay with the world because . . . well, I don’t know. There wasn’t any kind of reflection on what these books will teach people this time around, as opposed to what they taught us last time, before we blew up the world over them. I’m not asking the director/script writer to prove the existence of God or validate Old Testament scripture, but just to follow through on the theme of the movie. Tell me anything you like, but tell me something. Respect the story.

Posted on: Friday, September 17th, 2010 at 11:52 am
Categories: Movies.

5 Responses to “The Book of Eli”

  1. MP Says:

    Oh my gosh – creepy. I just ordered this to watch on netflix a few days ago, saw it yesterday. Great minds think alike!

    And yes! It felt like the writer replaced the story with a thinly veiled Moby Dick-esque journey that screamed; THE BIBLE HAS BEEN HERE FOREVER AND EVEN WHEN THE WORLD ENDS IT WILL BE HERE. The metaphor is, obviously, that even apocalyptia can’t stop christanity – it perseveres.

    All of it had me going; yes, well. What about the quran? And the hinduists have a book, and what about Buddha’s writings? It was a feel good movie for the christians and not many others. It didn’t make you stop and think, it did not have a solid theme or moral. It did nothing except validate and bolster (in an empty, senseless way) the belief of christians.

    Although that twist at the end with Denzel being blind all along was interesting.

  2. Linda Says:

    Well, the koran was right there on the shelf next to the Bible at movie’s end, along with other religious texts. Buy my issue was that the focus of the storytelling was on the conflict with the town boss, and not on the nature of Eli’s burden. He could have been carrying any object of power and the same “story” could have been told.

    Suppose Eli was carrying essential medicines that had to reach the west coast; the same story, with the same conflicts, could be told, and probably more effectively, since the nature of such medicines wouldn’t matter. In this case, winning through is the goal because lives will be saved.

    But the nature of Eli’s burden does matter. That the movie failed to explore that really disappointed me.

  3. MP Says:

    Ahh, I see. Nothing worse than seeing wasted potential. 🙁

    And I didn’t notice that the quran was there at all – sharp eyes.

  4. Linda Says:

    I admit I was looking for it! Plus, HDTV 😀

  5. Toby Neal Says:

    THanks for the review, I’ll netflix with low expectations.