Sunday, February 07, 2010

Faith in Desperate Post-Apocalyptic Times

Book of Eli an intriguing religious opus

With films like Avatar and Serenity finding such a broad audience, it's become clear that the western -- a film genre once considered to be largely dead -- has been reborn within the science fiction genre.

The Book of Eli is sci-fi's most recent take on the western. It addresses many of the themes that the psychological westerns of the 1950s and 60s addressed -- how religious people maintain their faith in a hostile environment.

In The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington plays a character who spends most of the film never so much as speaking his own name (he's identified only by a nametag found in his backpack -- and it could very well not be his real name).

Washington's Eli starkly reminds one of Clint Eastwood's character from High Plains Drifter -- wandering seemingly aimlessly (actually spurned on by the visitation of religious voices) until his progress is interrupted by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) a Mussoli-admiring tyrant who keeps control over a ramshackle post-apocalyptic town by force of the gang of gun-wielding toughs whose loyalty he seems to maintain through his wealth, and by restricting control of the written word.

Eli, as it turns out, is carrying the one prize that Carnegie (Gary Oldman) desires above all others: a copy of the Holy Bible.

Eli has been charged to carry that Bible west. He firmly believes that the book's destiny is to be used in a place where it will be safe, and is desperately needed.

Carnegie, however, only desires it out of the cynical belief that it can grant him power over other people, and win their unquestioning obedience. He insists that the Bible is nothing more than a weapon, and he intends to use it as such; he frequently speaks of his plans to expand his settlement.

Eli, meanwhile, knows well the danger of religion being used as a weapon. He speaks of the times before "the flash" (probably the flash of a nuclear weapon) and speaks of a Equilibrium-esque crackdown on religion as either part of the conflict that led to nuclear war, or even as the cause of it.

Eli repeatedly demonstrates his will to kill in defense of the book. Oddly enough, he also demonstrates his extreme reluctance to intervene in defense of the helpless; this doesn't change until he meets Solara (Mila Kulis) who eventually becomes his apostle.

Solara, although only recently acquainted with the Bible, knows full well that Carnegie cannot be allowed to have it. She joins Eli in a trek across the cannibal-inhabited outlands, his bid to protect the book from any who would harm it.

Reducing religion to a mere means to control others undeniably harms it.

One of what may well be recognized as one of the defining films of the postmodern sci-fi western, The Book of Eli recognizes the danger of this, and sends the message loud and clear.

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