The Book of Eli
Most people don’t know that I used to be, many years ago, a movie devourer. And when I say this I mean it. My love for movies has started when my late father started to take me to the cinema. In a communist country one could not see much on TV, but what was extraordinary in those times was that people were getting tickets to the “Cinemateca”, a cinematographic phenomenon that has impregnated my memories from early childhood. I remember going with my parents and seeing many art movies, western movies and movies one could have never got to see on TV.
Many years later I have rediscovered the cinematography dream as the communism has died and the Romanians were able to get free access to any movie one could dream of. Throughout the years I must have watched hundreds of movies of all genres. Then life took it’s toll and I didn’t have the time for this passion till recently when I got back to my roots.
One of the movies I have seen not a long time ago (but long after being released) is “The Book of Eli”. And what I made of it is a very personal statement and very subjective thing.
It is a post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind. “The Book of Eli” is not a commercial movie. It has griped my attention throughout the story and it has thrown at me some surprise moments that have made everything in the entire movie more surreal.
Eli, a lone wanderer, has been walking west across the devastated landscape of America for 30 years, on his way to the sea. 30 years is a lifetime. 30 years is a metaphor. 3 is a sacred number, a divine number and 30 is almost the age a man should have had in order to be considered an adult in the Old Testament. This speaks to me of the path of a man in a hard life, of the sacrifices one needs to make just to find his way.
How does Eli know he’s walking the right way? “Faith,” he says. This simple reply takes on added resonance later in the film. But also speaks volumes to those that think that life is more than just a physical existence. If life has a greater purpose and we all have a destiny, the difficult and dry part of it is to actually find that purpose and fight for it.
Eli is indeed a great fighter as he needs to be in order to survive after witnessing the catastrophe that has wiped out most of the Earth’s population and left behind ruin, desolation, victimized humans and roaming motorcycle gangs of hijackers and thieves. The Hughes brothers, Albert and Allen, film this story in sunburned browns and pale blues, creating a dry and dusty world under a merciless sky. Water is treasure. There’s no exuberance in this world, only survival. There’s no great joy in Eli’s life, maybe only the solemn joy of reading his book and hearing music long forgotten by most others. This wasteland Eli treks at an implacable pace. Set upon in an ambush, he kills all his attackers. He’s got one of those swords that makes a unique noise all by itself, so you can consider him a one-man army.
Washington and the Hughes brothers do a good job of establishing this man and his world, and at first, “The Book of Eli” seems destined to be solemn. But then Eli arrives at a Western town ruled by Carnegie , who, like all the local bosses in Westerns and gangster movies, sits behind a big desk flanked by a tall bald guy and, of course, a short scruffy one. In this town, desperate and starving people live in rusty cars and in the streets. We meet Carnegie’s abused wife Claudia and her daughter Solara, a prostitute in Carnegie’s bar. He controls everybody by fear and manipulation.
Carnegie needs Eli because he has maybe the last remaining copy of a book believed to allow the expansion and rule over many more towns. “RELIGION IS POWER” Carnegie says, and this phrase makes it even more clear that we talk about the last Bible on the face of Earth and about the thirst of domination rising in the human mind.
The third act seems to be taken out of many Westerns in which the hero and the girl hole up and are surrounded. That allows countless beams of sunlight to shine in the dusty atmosphere and work as a metaphor. It can be the hope in the darkness of soul and mind. It can be breaking the rules and going beyond Eli’s limits to make a dream and life mission come true. The image of Eli walking numb by the side of the street after being shot reminds of the incredible resistance of the human spirit in the worst conditions.
Populated by a vivid imagery , the movie has a magnificent ending , unpredictable and almost implausible, breaking apart from the movie and having a life of its own. The human mind and soul can be the carrier of a dream. The dream of transmitting a message to another generation, the dream of a better world born out of ashes. If there’s a message at the end of this movie that can only be that hope never dies and one should never give up his dream.
930 words, memyselfandela, January 2014