The Book of Eli

Posted on: January 26, 2011

Thirty years after an unknown apocalyptic event (probably a nuclear war, given some characters refer to it as “the blast” as well as the devastation evident throughout the movie), Eli, played by Denzel Washington, is headed west. In his possession is a book and he is determined to get the book to the west coast of what remains of the United States.

We know almost nothing about Eli, save for his exceptional fighting ability and keen senses. He is soft spoken, obviously intelligent, and tries to talk his way out of trouble. But, as is so often the case in movies like this, he usually has to resort to Matrix style hand to hand combat.

During his journey, he stops in a ramshackle town for water. There, he is accosted by a group of bandits, whom he defeats quite handily. The guy in charge of the town is Carnegie, played by Gary Oldman. Carnegie has been sending men out to search for a specific book he believes holds the ability to grant him power over others. Given that most of his men are young enough to have been born only after the apocalypse, they are unable to read. Thus, they bring Carnegie every book they find, hoping one of them will be the one he seeks.

After seeing Eli in action and then finding out he’s an educated man, Carnegie offers Eli a job working for him. Eli declines, saying there’s “…someplace I gotta be.” Carnegie locks Eli up in a hotel room for the night, making it quite clear this isn’t an offer Eli can refuse. To help sweeten the deal, Carnegie sends Solara to Eli’s room. She is the daughter of Carnegie’s woman. We also learn this woman, named Claudia, is blind and has been since birth.

Eli declines Solara’s offer of, ahem, comfort. However, Solara convinces Eli to let her stay the night as she believes Carnegie will beat her mother if he thinks Solara refused to play along in her role as prostitute. During the night, Solara finds out Eli is in possession of a book, though he refuses to let her look through it and becomes very agitated when she presses the issue.

The next day, in an attempt to save her mother from another beating, Solara tells Carnegie of Eli’s book. He races to Eli’s room, only to find he has escaped. Carnegie gathers his remaining men together and they take off into the wastelands in a motley collection of working vehicles. Solara has also left town and caught to Eli on foot. She pleads with him to let her accompany Eli on his journey and he finally agrees.

They end up at a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere. George and Martha are an elderly couple living there. Eli trips on the fact that they are cannibals and tries to leave with Solara. Just then, Carnegie and crew show up. There is a massive firefight and both George and Martha are killed, as well as several of Carnegie’s men. Carnegie ends up taking possession of the book, which we’ve learned is a King James Bible. He shoots Eli and leaves him to die. Solara is taken prisoner and tossed into a vehicle.

On the way back to town, Solara is able to gain control of the vehicle she is in and crashes it, killing two of her captors. Carnegie has only enough gas in his vehicle to make it back to town so leaves Solara to escape. She finds Eli back on his trek west and picks him up. The continue on to the coast and row to Alcatraz island. There, they are taken in by a group of survivors after Eli tells them he has in his possession a copy of the King James Bible.

Eli has committed the book to memory and begins dictating it for transcription. The group on the island has been compiling books and knowledge for many years and have put together a printing press.

Meanwhile, Carnegie has made it back to town with the Bible. He can’t open it immediately as it has a locking clasp. He gets the local engineer/inventor to pick the lock. When the book is opened, the final twist to the movie is fully revealed. I won’t spoil it here but suffice to say if you pay close attention throughout the movie, you just might see it coming.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. The fight scenes were well choreographed. The overall plot was interesting and held my attention. Denzel Washington was great, as always. I did feel the movie was fairly dark and I’m not referring to the content. It seems many movies made in the last few years decided to save budget money on lighting. There were several scenes where I had a hard time seeing what was going on. I’d recommend the movie to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic action as well as fans of Washington’s work in general.

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