Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Book Of Eli [2010] movie review

Originally submitted at

In a post-apocalyptic America where the once-picturesque countryside has become a desolate and violent wasteland, one man (Denzel Washington) fights to protect that sacred tome that could hold the key to the survival of the human race in this futuristic thriller from filmmaking duo Albert and Allen…

The word is power – power is the word

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch NZ on 8/29/2010
4out of 5

Pros: Original, Great Cinematography, Engaging Characters

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

Post-apocalypse movies are not my usual fare. ‘2012’, ‘The Day After’, and so forth, do not appeal to me. Generally they seem to be of a genre that caters to American Survivalist Movement fantasies, which interests me not at all, and they are almost invariably taken from a uniquely American cultural perspective, which is alien to my outlook.
The Book of Eli, however, has an unusual direction. Its theme is not simply survival but continuation through faith. The premise is simple; if you believe absolutely, then absolutely anything is possible.
The story begins with Eli [Denzel Washington], a lone man in a bleak world, hunting and killing a cat using a dead man’s body as bait. Carrying his prey he trudges through a barren landscape to a deserted shack, where, having first taken the boots from a corpse he finds hanging in a cupboard, he cooks and eats his meal. That night he reads from a book that he carries with him, an old leather-bound book that is kept carefully wrapped in cloth, a book that he takes the time to read from every day.
The next day he encounters a group of bandits and we learn that Eli can use a cane-knife with almost supernatural speed and accuracy. Leaving the piled corpses behind he walks on across a lifeless land strewn with debris and rubbish. As the story progresses we learn that there was a war many years before, a war that tore the sky open and the world was scorched of all life save those few who by chance were at the time in underground places. Few survived. Those that did were forced to fight over the few remaining scraps of civilization. As Eli says at one point ‘we threw away things that we now fight to the death for’.
Moving on from the scene of carnage, Eli comes at last to a small town populated by the wretched remnants of humanity and run by a boss-man called Carnegie [Gary Oldman]. Carnegie’s woman, Claudia [Jennifer Beals] is blind and she has a daughter, Solara [Mila Kunis]. His right-hand man is Redridge [Ray Stevenson, playing the sort of part that he plays so very well]. More than anything else Carnegie wants books and has built up something of a library, but there is one book above all that he desires, a book that he cannot find. It is a very special book, he knows, for he studied it in his youth before the war. It has the power to influence minds, and he who controls the book can command its power over others.
Eli, he discovers, has a copy of this very special book, a book known only as The Bible. It may be the last copy in existence, for we learn that the Bible had something to do with the outbreak of that last, devastating war, and that afterwards all copies that could be found were burned. Carnegie offers to purchase the book from Eli, who refuses. There is a shootout in the street and we learn that Eli’s skill with a firearm is as uncanny and as lethal as his skill with a cane-knife. Carnegie is wounded and left in the street amid the carnage of his cohorts. Eli walks on, for he is on a mission: many years before he heard a voice inside him, a voice that directed him to the book where it lay hidden under rubble, and told him to go west.
Thirty years later he is still heading west, and nothing is going to stop him. What is there he does not know, nor why he is going, nor what he must do when he gets there, but he has to go there just the same. All he knows is that his faith will tell him what to do when the time comes.
Eli moves on relentlessly, now followed by Solara, who has become fascinated in her turn with the book and the journey. They come to a derelict house where they meet George [Michael Gambon] and Martha [Frances De La Tour], an eccentric elderly couple brilliantly portrayed by these two veteran British character actors, who have eked out an existence by killing and eating the occasional passers-by. They are invited in for a cup of tea and a sandwich [!!]. They drink the tea but refuse the food, and as they are about to depart the roar of engines approaching sounds in the distance; Carnegie has followed them. He invites them to come out and surrender the book, in which case all will be forgiven, but of course Eli refuses. What follows is a fire-fight on the grand scale as only American cinema can mount, and we learn that Carnegie has some serious firepower at his disposal.
The house is almost demolished in the brief but fierce battle, George and Martha go down with guns blazing, and Eli and Solara are dragged from the rubble. Carnegie shoots Eli, takes the book and gives Solara to Redridge, leaving Eli to die alone in the dust. But Solara is more resourceful than Carnegie would have believed. She contrives to force the vehicle in which she is travelling to run off the road, killing its other occupants, and to destroy a second vehicle-load of heavies. Carnegie seems about to try to recover her, but shrugs. He has the book; let the desert have her.
Now motorised, Solara returns to the derelict house to find Eli gone. She overtakes him on the road as he struggles on remorselessly to the west, even though his book has gone, and together they drive the relatively short distance to a ruinous San Francisco. Here they find themselves a rowboat which they doggedly row out to the island of Alcatraz, where they discover an organised colony that is run on more civilised lines than that of Carnegie. But they also want a copy of the Bible, having been unable to find one for themselves. Does Eli have one?
He does, he tells them, to Solara’s astonishment. Only then do Eli’s condition and his astonishing tenacity become plain, and all becomes clear in the last ten minutes of the movie.
This is not a movie on which to make a snap assessment. It requires a few days of reflection to fully realise its implications. I certainly did not write this assessment in one hit; I had to do it piecemeal over a period of days, and it was well worth the effort of slow examination.
The Book of Eli must stand out as one of the top half dozen movies of the year. Its genre is hard to define; it appears initially as a standard action movie, a post-apocalypse movie. The we realise that is has strong elements of the classic western movie, coupled with a science fiction theme. Then finally it is revealed as a complex visual parable on the power of faith, but faith in only a superficially Christian context. It is not the Bible itself that is important, it is belief in the Bible and its teachings. Eli becomes a figure of both tragedy and power, a mighty, solitary figure, a latter-day Elijah or Isaiah, driven by his vision to achieve something that only he can perceive, able to achieve it through a strength that wells up from his unshakeable faith.
Stephen Symons


Treading Water.

The trip to Sydney has come and gone. We stayed, as we did on our last visit a couple of years ago, at Challis Lodge in Potts Point. This is a small, very basic hostelry with primitive plumbing and few amenities, but it has a lot of advantages. It is very cost-effective at what worked out at $NZ760.00 for six nights. The room we had was adequate, although the bed was on castors and tended to creep around. On the other hand, we had our own little balcony overlooking the street. It was only ten minutes’ walk up Macleay Street to the Alamein Fountain and the heart of Kings Cross, and there was a bus stop a hundred metres away where we pick up to go right down to Circular Quay via Woolloomooloo.

We spent our five whole days doing the tourist thing; the Museum of Sydney, Government House, the Art Gallery, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Old Mint etcetera, etcetera. We took the underground from Kings Cross to the City and walked down George Street, exploring the Victoria Building and its maze of underground tunnels full of little shops. We took the ferry to Manly and back, and then another to Watsons Bay and back, and we had a day at Taranga Park Zoo. We ate at cheap eateries at Kings Cross. One pub offered an amazing bargain of steak and chips for $A10 per head, and the steaks were thick, tender and perfectly cooked. In short we were a typical elderly tourist couple doing the economy level tour.

Our evenings were spent at Challis Lodge. We would go out for tea and then return to our room. Ruth would read in bed and eventually drift off, and I would sit at the table on the balcony and stare out over the darkling sky, thinking, dreaming all sorts of dreams. But not of Calion. I did not even open the book to start the revision of Amulet. No energy for that, I am afraid. Nor any still. I feel that I am treading intellectual water at the moment, keeping my head afloat, drifting nowhere particularly. Waiting. For what?

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