The Book of Eli – an accident needing to happen

My wife and I were planning on see Avatar this afternoon, but when we arrived for the mid-day matinee, it was sold out.  Having come all the way downtown we decided to see “The Book of Eli” instead, mainly because we both enjoy Denzel Washington.  From the opening moments, the movie was phenomenal at every level: great cinematography and acting, and a story line that utterly caught us by surprise, because it is, after all, a movie about the Bible.  Though we were there accidentally, it felt providential for too many reasons to share here.

The viewer is drawn into a post-apocalyptic world populated by savage survivalists.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Eli is carrying the last remaining Bible on the planet with him, trying to transport it ‘west’ because he’d a vision from God directing him to do so.  He’s strong, compassionate, and deeply committed to this ‘calling’.  It becomes clear that the reason there’s only one known Bible is because after ‘the event’, all holy books were intentionally destroyed.

I loved this movie at many levels, but primarily because we encounter our holy text as both the glorious gift, and dangerous weapon that it is, has been, and may yet be in the future.  CS Lewis hinted around once that he thought things with the greatest capacity for good were also the things that had the greatest capacity of evil.  If he’s right, the Bible is surely one of the most powerful elements on the planet.  Because of God’s Word, ethics of compassion, peace, love for enemies, care for the poor, and hospitality have been preserved and handed from generation to generation.

The same book has been used to sanction colonialism, genocide, slavery, and oppression.  Great good; great evil, both reminding us that any of God’s gifts are open to abuse, including the Bible.   The new atheists, of course, can only see this myopically, only seeing the evil and heartache that have been poured into our world with a cup of proof-texting.  They point to these things as revealing the danger of religion.  This movie does that, but also helps us see where history would go if there were guidance, if were all left on our own to follow our basest desires.  We come to see, in Eli, the stark contrast of his life as ‘light’, set in the midst of darkened human hearts.

I won’t give the ending away, but I’ll see that I was reminded, throughout the movie, of the passage from Amos which declares that a day is coming when there will be a famine, not of food and water, but of the hearing of the Word of God.   What a treasure we have!  May we feast upon Christ through the gift of His Word so that, come what may, the word will live, through we who claim to follow.

The movie is rightly rated R for it’s graphic violence, but if you can sit with such violence, the redemptive message of this film is will worth it.  You can get a study guide for group discussion, and movie clips here.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • patricknygren

    I like your thoughts. You should still see Avatar . . . I’d recommend IMAX 3D (but on a REAL imax screen, like at Pacific Science Center, and don’t sit too far forward). Also, haven’t run into you in a while! Hope to catch up soon.

    Patrick

  • Josh Thomas

    Mr. Dahlstrom,

    Excellent words on The Book of Eli. I went and saw the movie Saturday night with some friends and by the end was very satisfied with my investment ($10 to see a movie on the big screen! ugh:/). The trailer is good in that it gives very little away about the movie – thus I was a bit skeptical going into. But as the story unfolded I was simply blown away, especially with the ending! You’re right, the cinematography was great for a film such as this. And I agree that if one can look past the violence and language it’s a must see. My dad told me you blogged on the movie this morning and so I had to check it out. My folks saw Avatar yesterday and before they left I told them to go see The Book of Eli. I couldn’t quite articulate well my reasons though. You did a good job of that here.

    Josh

  • Dan

    Richard,
    Thought you’d “appreciate” this. I can’t believe it. Let’s spread the light of Jesus gospel on our machine guns!!

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-military-weapons-inscribed-secret-jesus-bible-codes/story?id=9575794


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