This film postulates a post-apocalyptic society where the survivors have become conscience-less killers solely bent on survival. This new society is illiterate (except for the characters payed by British actors, for some mysterious reason). A wanderer through it (Denzel Washington) holds on to the last copy of the Bible, which he uses for his personal moral betterment. All such books were understandably burned by the survivors because the nuclear holocaust itself was caused by a war of religions. A local evil crime-boss (Gary Oldman) wants to get hold of a copy of the Good Book at all cost, because he sees in it the best way to further enslave and exploit the desperate, the poor and the ignorant he longs to control. God knows it's worked before
The problem with this film is that it is itself the product of a post-literate society. Every element of the script has been borrowed – not from books or novels – but from other films and even comic books too numerous to mention. Its art direction, like that of countless other recent productions, is entirely derived from the comics of French artist Jean Giraud, creator of the "Lieutenant Blueberry" series. Every plot point is conceived in visual terms, i.e. how it will look on the screen. This logic leads to multiple scenes of violent carnage (often perpetrated by the "Christian" hero) with machetes, guns, axes, crowbars, chain-saws and explosives, like any other B-grade action or horror film, or, more precisely, like any post-apocalyptic-themed video game offering an extreme violence content. "The Book of Eli" is actually just another comic book for Americans who are too illiterate to read a comic book.
The cinematography uses filter manipulations that make it veer into a blue-green nightmare (like countless other recent productions) verging towards monochromatic ochre through much of its running time and finally giving us a glimpse of colour towards the end. This happens to be the cheapest way to give a film's art direction unity (not to mention making your movie look like it was directly lifted from the pages of graphic novel). I insist on noting here that when Jean-Pierre Jeunet used colour manipulation in a film like "Amélie" (2001), he did it in a playful and whimsical manner, an attitude that is miles removed from that of the makers.
Its "music", except for a few final bars borrowed from the religious repertoire, is really electronically manipulated noise putting the accent on the lowest, stomach-churning frequencies the human ear can endure. This is known as "fear music", the kind that plays round the clock on the History channel (the "H" stands for "hignorance") during its never-ending post-apocalyptic-themed pseudo-documentaries.
The film itself lacks logic in many ways. Questions such as "How did Eli survive the gunshot?", "Where do the thugs get their gas?", "Doesn't the most compact Braille version of the King James Bible come in 17 over-sized and unwieldy volumes?", "Given the film is made by morons for morons, isn't is safe to suppose that an awful lot of them will assume that Eli is himself blind if he carries a Braille Bible (even if he is never seen actually reading from it)?", "Why does the final printed Bible come with footnotes?" and "Why should Denzel Washington entrust his career to such a gimmicky premise?" are never answered. The film also overstays its welcome by a good thirty minutes during which it has ample time to choke on its own sanctimonious pretensions and doubly underline the painfully obvious. This is sad because its cast includes many fine actors chosen either for their talent (Washinton, Oldman, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits), their photogenic qualities (Mila Kunis) or their resemblance to comic book characters (Ray Stevenson, Evan Jones and a host of other murderous thugs).
The script is so badly written, more than one interpretation of Elis' "blindness" is possible, namely (among many others):
(1) Eli has been blinded by the flash but has miraculously learned to read the miraculously-compacted Braille book he miraculously found and miraculously can go through all the motions of a seeing person, like miraculously hunting a cat and miraculously feeding a mouse; (2) Eli is not blind, has never learned how to read Braille or any other language (he is illiterate, like the writers) and he is totally guided by faith, having learned the Bible by heart through either his "voice" or a mentor; (3) Eli is blind but can see during the main part of the film, from the moment he wakes up in the cabin until his eyes "glaze over" (according to some) towards the end; (4) Denzel Washington is himself blind. He had to blindly rely on his agent to commit to this disastrous project and never really read the script.
Any film whose moral seems to be: "See, boys and girls, if you believe hard enough in the Bible, you too will be able to kick ass and decapitate bad guys on sight with a machete, just like a real blind Ninja in a real video game or a real Muslim terrorist in a real life situation" deserves nothing but contempt.
In a society where films like this one have become the main form of entertainment, it is to be expected that people will indeed become illiterate, blind, deaf, dumb, leprous, conscience-less and murderous. No nuclear holocaust needed.
The fact that the book which caused all this mayhem survives at the end is by far the most chilling aspect of this film. It makes you wonder what happened to the comic books...
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