Friday Night at the Movies: Book of Eli Review

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Book Of Eli” 
by Jeremy Berg
<Envelope Please> “And the winner for the grayest, grimmest, most violent post-apocalyptic thriller of 2010 involving the Bible goes to…..The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington.” <Applause>  This movie is not for the light-hearted or weak-stomached.  This movie paints a very dark picture of humanity in all it’s unfettered barbarism: rape, dismemberment, pillaging and survival of the fittest in all it’s glory — or should I say gory.
Here’s a synopsis by Dr. Marc Newman, president of MovieMinistry.com:
“In a post-apocalyptic world, Eli (Denzel Washington) walks west, carrying with him a book that can save the world. Unfortunately, the evil Carnegie also wants to get his hands on Eli’s book, though not at all for the same purposes. Both men know the power of the words contained in the book, but one intends it to heal the nations, while the other wants to twist them to serve is own desires. This is one of the most original films of the decade, with outstanding material for sermon illustrations and discussions. But the film is rated R for good reasons, so discretion in its use is strongly advised.”

While this movie is certainly not for everybody, it is a must for those who like examining the themes of the human depravity, sin and evil, the power of religion for both great good and horrendous evils, morality and, especially, the powerful influence the Bible and other holy books can exercise over human history and civilizations.  (For a much better review than this go HERE.)
For the Christian viewer the following lessons can be drawn from this film:
The Bible is truly a “two-edged sword” and can be used for great good or horrendous evil depending on whose hands it’s in.
Those among us who claim to see clearly are often spiritually blind; while many who are blind see things clearer than us all. (You have to see the movie to fully grasp this point.)
We owe an infinite debt of gratitude to God and his human agents who, like Eli in this film, labored to preserve, protect and pass down the Holy Scriptures faithfully, fearlessly and accurately throughout the centuries.  The main storyline reminded me of Thomas Cahill’s bestselling book How The Irish Saved Civilization which, as one reviewer summarizes, is about
“the Irish people before, during, and after the fall of Rome, how they took the literature of the world (Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian) and saved it from ignorant barbaric destruction. He describes how they transposed these writings ,writings that we hold so dear today to education andcivilization, into the volumes that would last into the rise of Medieval Europe. How these once alien savages, took such great literary works, held them close and dear to their hearts making them their own and thus preserving them for the world.”
In much the same way, Eli is like the last remaining Irish monk — a warrior monk, that is, armed with guns, knives and a ‘baditude’ — entrusted with the all-important task of preserving the last copy of the King James Bible and making sure it gets into the right hands while avoiding the wrong, so its message can be the foundations of a new and restorative civilization bringing humanity out of its post-apocalyptic dark age of barbaric destruction.
Left to our own devices, human sin and our fallen nature, when unchecked, can reach astounding levels of depravity and violence in the name of self-preservation and survival.  This movie paints a painful and ugly picture of the potential of human beings for ill.  Romans 1 anybody?  Thankfully, God did not completely withdraw his presence from His wayward creation and let us reap our own destruction.  He sent prophets calling forth justice and repentance but ultimately entered himself into our dilemma and provided a solution through Christ.
Likewise, Eli embodies a man bound by a higher law than the laws of  human sinful nature and the flesh. His good and noble character sets him worlds apart from the rest of the men ruled by their animal desires.  This is powerfully seen in his treatment of the beautiful Solara who is given to him as a sexual favor but whom he treats with the dignity and respect befitting of a woman created in the image of God.
There is a story of redemption in the transformation and rescue of Solara out of bondage to her evil father and hostile family environment.
Eli is a shining example of bold, faithful obedience to God’s unique calling and assignment for his life.  He trusts God’s promises to protect and carry him through all forms of opposition that comes his way.  Eli remains faithful to the end as does the One who called Him to this task.
On the other hand, Eli’s faith seems entrenched in the warrior mentality of the OT story and completely ignorant of the New Testament faith shaped by Jesus’ non-violent Kingdom.  After watching 2 hours of “holy violence” done in the name of God, how can one not see the deep disconnect between this sort of faith and the faith of the One who reprimanded his disciple saying, “Put away your sword!  Don’t you know that those who live by the sword will also die by the sword?”  This movie may have had some biblical thematic overtones, but there was very little that was Christian about it — if Jesus and his teachings define what we call “Christian.”
Finally, as one of my high school students pointed out to me, the final message the movie tries to send in the closing scene is that all religions are equally valid sources of truth.  Remember the scene?  The carefully and miraculously preserved translation of the King James Bible finally finds it’s way to a safe shelf placed equally beside all the other religious holy books at last completing the set. The wordless scene seems to scream out loudly: “Take your pick. They’re all basically the same thing in the end.”
Except, of course, that they’re not.  But we’ll leave that conversation for another day and perhaps another film. 
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Chad

    Thanks for the review and summary.
    My first reaction to the last scene was the same as yours, plus a sense of “If this is just one more truth source, why fight so hard for it?”
    But the longer I mulled on it, I began to reinterpret the scene to say something more like “Christian scripture is the apex and fulfillment of all truth.”
    As for the violence, I didn’t interpret it to be an OT holy violence disconnected from Jesus’ message. I understood it more as a metaphorical representation of the struggle and battles we as Christians must engage if we are to withstand evil, pursue good, and carry out our mission (missio Dei).
    Of course maybe my reactions to the movie are just denial so I can feel better about watching a really cool kick-butt movie! :)

  • Fred

    i FEEL THAT THIS MOVIE WILL MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I SEE IT AS SHOWING THE STRUGGLE THAT MAN MUST GO THROUGH TO KEEP THE GOSPEL AND ITS TEACHINGS IN THE PROPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND HIS WILL. IT SHOWS WHAT WE AS GOOD CHRISTIANS MUST ENDURE TO PRESERVE THIS WAY OF LIFE AND BELIEF. WE MUST BE WILLING TO ENDURE TO KEEP THE FAITH THAT THE BIBLE TEACHES. SOME MAY ONLY SEE IT ENTERTAINING ELEMENT BUT IT WILL TOUCH HEARTS AS TO WHAT WILL BE FONE TO PRESERVE THE WORD OF GOD.


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