I went to see “The Book of Eli” yesterday with my friend Felicia.
It’s been thirty years since civilization collapsed. A few communities struggle here and there, and others live, isolated and afraid. Hobbesian dynamics are in full force. The road is no place for travelers who are not prepared. Bandits and thieves (“hijackers”) abound and make travel dangerous.
Across this blasted, water-deprived landscape (the lack of potable and washing water is a strong theme throughout the movie), a man (Denzel Washington) wanders. He’s not writing wrongs, as we see early when he allows a pair of fellow travelers to fall to bandits. He has a deeper mission, “going west”, carrying a very special and very rare book. The same book, in fact, that Carnegie (Gary Oldman) is searching for, and wants to use to expand his one-town hydraulic empire.
And the identity of that book…would be telling.
The Book of Eli surprised me. I thought it would be at best a modest post-apocalyptic movie, good for some okay entertainment but nothing else. Instead, the Hughes brothers have produced a very good post-apocalyptic movie. I knew I would like this movie with one small detail about a third of the way in. Eli (whose name at this point we still don’t know) is enjoying the forced hospitality of Carnegie. His room has a movie poster on the wall as the main decoration.
The movie poster is of another post-apocalyptic movie, A Boy and His Dog. When I saw that, I understood the Hughes brothers had done their homework.
The cinematography, with a heavy use of desaturated shots and a sense of bleakness, especially from high up, is on the high end for these sorts of films.
And, to quote TV Tropes, In addition to Denzel Washington’s Eli and Gary Oldman’s Carnegie, the movie has Tom Waits, Jennifer Beals (if you remember, she and Washington were in a previous movie together: Devil in a Blue Dress), Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo from the Rome series), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore himself) and a cameo by Malcolm McDowell.
With a good amount of acting talent, good direction and cinematography, and darned entertaining, its a wonder this movie was released at this time of year, the graveyard of movies. Why wasn’t this movie released in September, as counter programming to the end of Summer blockbusters.
Unfortunately, I think I know why, and it has to do with the nature of the book and some of the themes in the movie that stem from it. This interview on NPR with the Hughes brothers does spoil what the book is and what those themes are.. I think they have a point as to why this movie hasn’t won over the critics.
As for me though, with some kick ass action scenes, great actors and actresses, and a well filmed vision of the world after the apocalypse, my friend Felicia and I were well satisfied by The Book of Eli.