Monday, January 25, 2010

“The Book of Eli” – I wish I was blind after watching this film.

Post-apocalypse films are tricky in that you have to be careful with the amount of information you provide. With these films, it is safe to assume that the audience will readily accept the circumstances without an explanation as to how it came about. If you start giving details, be ready to fully explain past events because people like me aren’t going to be happy with vague references and half-explained (read: half-assed) details. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens, causing this movie to be somewhat annoying rather than entertaining.

(Before I continue, you should know I am going to completely spoil this movie. Like “Vantage Point,” there is no way to tell you how I think this movie was ruined without revealing the surprise at the end. Also, it’s a review; spoilers are inherent)

The premise of this movie is one that we are very familiar with: the Earth has been shattered by nuclear war and the remains of the human race are just trying to survive. The film opens with a hairless cat nibbling on a human body in a forest where ash is raining. It’s a very cool scene (not the cat part) and would have been perfectly acceptable had they not told us later in the film that it’s been thirty years since the war. If it’s been thirty years, where the hell is the ash coming from? Nowhere else in the film is anything falling from the sky, so you can’t say that it’s still fallout from the atmosphere.

The film is littered with vague references to this war and the past and current effects it had on the land and life. For example, when Eli walks into the town, he has to show his hands to the proprietors of the bar and maintenance shops. If you’re trying to picture this (I know, it’s weird), he simply holds his hands out, palm down, and they briefly look at them, then mumble something vague about him from the old time or not “one of them.” We are never told who “they” are or what is being checking for on people’s hands. Other annoying references include Eli alluding to an event where a hole was torn in the sky and the sun came through (what the hell does that mean?!) and people in various states of deterioration (maybe they are “them”).

I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up. The opening scene also introduces us to our main character Eli (Denzel Washington), who shoots an arrow through the cat, from a distance, while wearing a gas mask. Again, this is all acceptable if they don’t tell us later that most of the survivors of the war were blinded, including Eli (spoiler #1, although they show us this in the first five minutes of the movie). I don’t care how heightened his senses are from being blind for thirty years; there is no way he can hear a cat walking in ash, not to mention know which part of the body on which the cat is nibbling.

Before we move on, we need to discuss this whole blind main character thing. The fact that he is blind is irrelevant until the end of the film, when the big ‘shocker’ regarding the book is revealed. In fact, after the filmmakers establish that Eli is blind, they spend most of the movie trying to convince you that he is not blind. I don’t know if this was done on purpose or if they just forgot that he was supposed to be blind, but Eli spends most of the film reacting to things as if he can see them. If you’ve ever spent time around a blind person, you’ve probably noticed that their faces don’t point directly at the things they are sensing. For awhile, I thought that he was just partly blind, but they make a big point of zooming in on his eyes at the end to make sure we understand that, yes, he is indeed blind.

Getting back to the story, Eli has the last remaining copy of the King James Bible left on Earth and God told him to take it west. This leads to another plot hole and question. We know he’s in America and that it’s been thirty years since he found the Bible; how has he not made it to the west coast in all that time? Has he been spending years hunting cats or was he just lost? Anyway, he reads the Bible every night and tries to live his life by it. Except when he’s killing people – a lot of people. Above everything else, Eli is the only one allowed to touch or see the book (his words). Of course, he kills people for other reasons too, demonstrating this by slaughtering a bar full of people simply because they were mad that he pushed a cat.

The bar (and town) owner, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), sees this and offers Eli a life of ease to join him, which will increase his hold over the town. Carnegie is also looking for a Bible because he wants to use the words to further control people. When he finds out that Eli has a Bible, the movie devolves into every action movie you’ve ever seen. Carnegie uses all of his resources to get the bible and Eli kills them. Though, in a surprise twist from every action movie you’ve ever seen, Carnegie shoots Eli in the climax of the film and takes the Bible (spoiler #2).

The dumbest part of this movie is arguably the fact there is only one Bible left on the planet. We’re told that all of the Bibles were burned after the war. We aren’t told why, but are left to assume that Christianity has been blamed for the war. This leaves us with two questions: did they not burn the Book of Mormon, or Torah or any other religious tome and more importantly, do they really expect us to believe that they found every copy of the Bible on the planet but one? The Bible is the most printed and sold book on Earth, every year. We’re talking billions of copies and there is no way that the survivors crawled through the rubble of an entire planet simply to burn Bibles.

Anyway, here comes spoiler #3. When Carnegie gets back to his town with his prize, he opens it only to discover that it is written in Braille. This is where it we get the zoom-in on Eli’s eyeballs, slamming home the fact that he is blind. I decided to ruin this film for you because I believe that it was unnecessary for him to be blind. Considering they don’t tell us what his job was in the past, plus we know he was blinded during the war and not at birth, we are left assuming that he already knew how to read Braille before the war. This makes his blindness merely a dumb plot device for what is assumed to be a really dumb audience. I say it all the time; I point things like this out because I believe you are smarter than does Hollywood.

After completely tearing apart what can only be described as a lazy movie, I thought back on the religion part of the film and realized that it could be interpreted as both pro- and anti- religion. They point out that the Bible can be used for both good and bad, as demonstrated by the hero and villain. They tell us that humanity burned all the Bibles after the war, but one group wants to keep it in a library/museum to later help rebuild a peaceful society. What’s the conclusion from all of this? That I wasted two hours, but hopefully kept you from doing the same.

Rating: If you are entertained by decapitations and nuclear fallout, you should still ask for six dollars back.

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