The prophet Denzel practices his preach in the post-apocalyptic western The Book of Eli. Jesus will not be pleased.
Christian apologetics in the action genre is a rare thing. Granted, there are films which have spiritual, even religious contexts (The Matrix, Babylon A.D.), yet none that contains the strong evangelical spirit upon which The Book of Eli proudly draws its influence.
That Denzel Washington is both producer and star in this film seems fitting. Not only does he belong in that rare group of actor who injects character in even his action roles, but he is also a devout follower of the Christian faith.
Of course, there are faiths within faiths.
While promoting the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate with co-star and fellow Christian Meryl Streep, an unexpected debate arose between the two in regards to the war in Iraq and the role of Christianity in George W. Bush’s personal and political beliefs.
Streep insisted that any man who followed the teachings of Jesus would find war repulsive. Washington fired back that Jesus also kicked the money exchangers out of the temple. Clearly, The Book of Eli takes its inspiration from a kickass messiah, rather than a peaceful one.
The setting here is familiar: the world has been reduced to ash. Scavenges, rapists, and cannibals prowl the scattered remains of civilization. Resources are scarce and often killed for.
Washington plays Eli, a lone pilgrim on a journey west through “the shadow of death”, carrying with him the last copy of the King James Bible.
But that is not the only thing he is packing. As it turns out, Eli is something a bad ass warrior monk with a huge machete in tow, which he effectively uses to slice his way through anyone who stands in his way. Onward Christian soldiers, indeed.
In his travels he ascends on a dusty ol’ town on the up & up, ruled with an iron fist by Carnegie (Gary Oldman, at his maniacal best.) He wants Eli’s Bible for his own vices, namely power through the use of religion.
It is a plot point which brings up an interesting question: does a holy book provide a positive or destructive influence upon society?
Yet rather than expand on its one core idea, all that The Book of Eli offers is a war over ownership of the Bible between two destructive forces, who both ignore the core teachings from the book they both so covet.
Not to say that the violence on hand does not have its moments. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes exhibit their flair for the visual with well staged action sequences, while Washington and Oldman play fine adversaries.
Yet the type of Old Testament religious fervour on display just does not resonate. Exactly how Eli’s slaughter figures with “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is anyone’s guess.
One thing is for sure: had The Book of Eli stuck to the teachings of Christ, it would have been a shorter and less action packed film, yet not a hypocritical one.