This is a film about apocalyptic times. All films dealing with the advent of the apocalypse move them into the realm of science-fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy. Granted, there is a growing genre of films dealing with heavy religious themes. And all films can arguably be reviewed with some moral or religious theme overshadowing the plot or sub-plot. (Check out MovieMinistry online.)
But this film is not a religious film. There is an aspect of this film that does deal with religion. But this is not a religious film. The main character does have a Bible that he reads throughout the film. He can quote numerous passages from his book. But it is a mistake to become too involved in the meaning of his faith.
The sub-plot of all narratives dealing with the apocalypse has to deal, by the very nature of the context presented, with the breakdown of society. That is the starting point and the end point for all narratives in which a character, usually alone, is wandering through a vast wasteland of nothingness.
It is irritating in some films when there is no counterpoint to nihilism. In this case, there is no humor, no love, and no character development. And since those ingredients are the basis of all good film-making and since they are absent in “The Book of Eli”, I can conclude that this is not really a very interesting film.
Spoiler alert: I am now going to mention a part of the movie which has caused some speculation so don’t read this section if you don’t want the ending spoiled. At some point, it has been called to my attention that the character of Eli is blind. We find this out in the final scene of the film after he arrives at his final destination, the promised land of Alcatraz. At this point, the entire meaning of the film is changed for some viewers as Eli is viewed as the ultimate wanderer with blind faith. However, according to Denzel Washington, this is not the point on which to dwell. In a quote, he says, “ Because I never answered the question whether he’s blind or not. I don’t think it’s important. There’s different parties were kind of hung up. “Well, we need to show that he…” No we don’t. Maybe God gave him a Braille bible and said, “Learn it.”
It’s obvious from Mr. Washington’s remark that he wants the film audience to make up their own mind on this point. There are some aspects of this film that remind us of “High Plains Drifter” where the character is suggested as kind of a ghostly avenging angel in the final frame. There are other comparisons to the Kurosawa character of “Yojimbo” and other Japanese blind-swordsman.
But the idea of a blind, avenging supernatural type of superhero does change the characters intent and is clearly not the salient point of the narrative from Mr. Washington’s perspective. This film doesn’t begin to suggest any determining type of character development nor does it give us in-depth analysis of the main character’s motivations. Sometimes blind faith is what it is and in this instance, it’s best to leave it at that.