There's a theory which states that in times of war and famine, it is the good people who die first. You've probably heard The Piano Man sing about it, but it basically follows that the sort of person able to survive times of great strife isn't also generally the sort of person with strong moral convictions. If you're not willing to lie, cheat, or steal ... then the topsy-turvy landscape of a life-shattering global event finishes you off. I'm not sure if I personally subscribe to this theory, but into this precipice walks Denzel Washington's Eli; he's surrounded by post-apocalyptic baddies, a "good" man on an arduous mission. Can he keep his essential Godliness while also tangling with the devil? These are the questions the Hughes brothers ask of their audience in Book of Eli; they're also the questions I haven't quite been able to reconcile with the other moments of gunplay contained within. Could it be that faith is making a beeline toward hip?
There is no doubt that the power of love is a curious thing. And you don't have to listen to the news to know that it can make one man weep, and another man sing. Eli (Denzel Washington) loves, beyond all comprehension, the book he carries across the remains of an ashen and dusty United States. He carries it with faith and fidelity; it's both his burden and his blessing. But what of this world Eli inhabits? Something has happened, something awful, and now people are as scarce as they are scared. It seems as though the world went to war with itself, or an asteroid hit, or perhaps some other sort of natural disaster -- whatever the case, civilization is utterly torched. Books? They're even harder to find than people, and as a result literacy has taken a real dive. This is a world where people get murdered for their personal possessions, a world where you have to barter prized possessions for essential items like water and food.
And yet Eli walks. And walks. He's a lonely traveler, with only his book to keep him company. Well, and Al Green, naturally, whose voice Denzel uses as a tool for escape early on in the movie. You'd have to assume that even a monumentally destructive force would leave us Al Green's "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" behind on an MP3 player. Or at least I like to hope she would. The Hughes brothers' film feels more vibrant than the bleak Road, which was launched at us in November. Here the brothers show us the horror but somehow the staid and calm Denzel feels more approachable than the distraught and scrambling Viggo.
To give away what the book is, or Gary Oldman's villainous role, or really any more details at all would be a disservice to the reader. See it clean, and without preconceptions. It's a simple tale (in execution) but perhaps more complex in terms of the overarching theme. I mean, if it all came tumbling down, what would you hold dear? The recent earthquake in Haiti slams it home: Are we our brother's keeper? Can great evil ride upon the best of intentions? Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, and if you get very little out of it then you have my sincere apologies.
Take it away, Al Green (covering the Bee Gees)!
"How can you mend this broken man? How can a loser ever win?"
The Hughes brothers might not have the answer there. But they're sure as hell asking the questions with a lively vigor.