The Book of Eli

(2010) directors Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
viewed: 07/18/10

The latest from the filmmaking duo known as the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995), From Hell (2001))  is a post-Apocalyptic sci-fi flick starring Denzel Washington.  It’s an interesting flavor of this subgenre of science fiction, what with an African-American lead (oddly enough unusual) and sporting a rather pronounced Christian theme.  But even with those angles and slants on the genre, it’s not a whole lot that you haven’t seen before.  And yet it’s also not a dire effort either.

You see, in this post-apocalypse, not only are food, water, fuel, weapons, and sex all the most highly-sought commodities, but apparently, so is the Bible.  And while the idea that religion is a potential commodity of necessity, power, and survival is interesting in this genre, the pure absurdity that after only 30 years of post-destruction living that only one Bible still exists and that only a couple of people old enough to remember “from before” have any idea what it might signify, is just a little beyond implausible.

I guess that the Hughes brothers wanted to give this some flavor of the immediate future, not some hundreds or thousands of years beyond our now for relevance’s sake, and also so there would be some who would remember “from before” all the calamity happened.  It’s just insane to think that the most published book in the world has been reduced to one, or further that the whole of the world has forgotten this incredibly significant set of morals, stories, and meanings altogether…in 30 years.  So we’ve got a major plausibility issue here.

It’s not the only one, though.  The film turns at the end on an amusing twist, but this twist signifies a deeper, more over-arching twist that feels remarkably unbelievable as well.  I’m warning you.  I’m about to reveal it here, simply because it’s something I want to discuss.  So read no more if you fear the spoiler.

The twist at the end is that the one existing Bible is written in Braille.   Which is funny enough, a potential of irony simply in the situation that it could be a lost language of its own, unreadable by the villain who has sought it out.  But beyond that twist, is the further one, that Washington’s character, Eli, the ascetic who has toted this volume for 30 years to find a place where it will be protected and utilized, and who has kicked a lot of bad guy ass throughout the duration of the movie in hand-to-hand combat but also shooting guys with arrows and bullets, … is essentially a blind man.  Um, okay.

This would be one of those twists that would make you go back throughout the film to look for how he handles interactions to hide his blindness, how he manages with heightened senses to whack everybody, sense everything, navigate the world as its most ass-kicking survivalist.  But I couldn’t be asked to go back, even in my mind, over the scenes to see how that level of cleverness was executed.

It underscores the film’s shortcomings, however. It’s a sort of by-the-numbers wasteland, with a somewhat suggested cause of the doom (war).  But what could be the film’s best aspect, the power of the written word, literacy, knowledge even beyond faith (considering that faith doesn’t really exist except for Eli), is just a sleight-of-hand trick, a twist of cleverness, but one that basically forsakes the glaring illogic of the premise that religion and bibles were so rapidly eradicated post-whatever kind of war left the world in ruins.  So, what could have made for an interesting spin on the genre, makes for the film’s greatest weaknesses, and leaves us with a middling affair, mostly unremarkable.  Which is a shame because the Hughes brothers can or at least have done much better in the past.

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