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"Book of Eli" Is a Difficult Cheer for Persons of Faith

Updated on February 21, 2010
Eli walks by faith, not by sight.  But that doesn't prevent him from being pretty wicked with the machete.
Eli walks by faith, not by sight. But that doesn't prevent him from being pretty wicked with the machete.

Gallons of ink and billions of blog pixels have already been spilled over "The Book of Eli," one of the first big-budget adventure films of 2010. That it has overtly religious - dare I say, Christian - overtones is not in question. But is it really something that Christians can be comfortable with?

Mila Kunis as Solara, about to blow up an armored truck with a grenade - just one of the super violent scenes in Book of Eli.
Mila Kunis as Solara, about to blow up an armored truck with a grenade - just one of the super violent scenes in Book of Eli.

The movie in a nutshell

If you haven't seen the movie yet, here's the plot in a thumbnail: After a nuclear holocaust destroyed the world thirty years ago, only one Bible has survived. Eli (Denzel Washington), having been charged by God with the task of protecting it, is on a crosscountry hike to a place where he knows it will be protected and reprinted. Along his journey, he runs into Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a wicked, slippery character who runs a Western town with his group of typical movie henchmen. Carnegie wants his mitts on that Bible because he believes that with it, he can manipulate people and expand his empire. After a standoff between Eli and Carnegie (where God magically deflects bullets from Eli), the latter takes off with Carnegie's daughter Solara (Mila Kunis), and they make their way to California. Once arrived, Eli gives the Bible to a group that can reprint it and promptly dies. Solara takes one of the Bibles and sets off into the sunset, the first post-apocalyptic Christian missionary.

So what's the problem?

First of all, let me hasten to assure you that I liked the movie. Snobs at Rotten Tomatoes notwithstanding, I felt that the film was better than a spaghetti Western.  The production quality was definitely big-budget Hollywood, not the campy, cheap look of recent Christian films like "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof."  Unlike those films, it includes a healthy dose of profanity. And I have to admit, as a Christian, I often come away from films that mention the Bible with my teeth on edge. Hollywood is none too kind to the Bible. It seems perfectly content with respecting every religion except Christianity, and the Bible always gets misquoted, if quoted at all. (Think Jack Black, Jesus water into wine, for instance.) This movie had none of that. The Bible was respected, treated as something desirable. Oh sure, people misuse it, and the movie is honest about that. But still, there was something refreshing about seeing Eli reciting long passages of Holy Writ from memory, honoring the Bible in a way I've never seen before in a Hollywood action film.


"Book of Eli" is an incredibly violent movie. People waylay others on the road and eat them, their hands shaking with desire. People blow people up, people punch people out, people kill each other for fresh water, people shoot huge holes in houses and throw bombs at people. Bones crunch, blood flows freely, and severed limbs litter the bleak landscape. Solara tries to seduce Eli, starting to open his pants. She does this because her loving father Carnegie sends her to do it, and when Eli teaches her to pray that night instead of having sex with her, her loving father Carnegie grabs her mother and chokes her till Solara admits that Eli is, in fact, carrying a Bible with him. The whole movie has a feeling of despair, or evil, or waste, or something. In the last thirty years since the nuclear attack, the worst side of humankind has come out, and violence like a cancer has eaten through its humanity.

Eli teaches Solara to pray before she eats.  In an overtly Christian film, this is not surprising. But Eli also teaches Solara other things, like the best way to hack off other people's limbs.
Eli teaches Solara to pray before she eats. In an overtly Christian film, this is not surprising. But Eli also teaches Solara other things, like the best way to hack off other people's limbs.

Sip the Honey, Throw Away the Sting?

"Book of Eli" is a movie that tries to straddle two worlds. It seeks to bridge the gap between adventure film and Gospel sermon. In some ways, it does this task admirably. Some have compared it to a modern Pilgrim's Progress.

However, I feel a bit uneasy about a few of the messages in this film. For instance, Islamic terrorism kills more people every year than the Spanish Inquisition did in its whole 300-year existence. Yet people constantly harp on how awful the Catholic Church was, lumping in all Christians with a small number of very un-Christlike nominal "Christians" who killed in the name of money. In the same way, "Book of Eli" reinforces the notion that religion is by nature a violent thing, and that the only way to cleanse the air of evil is to use weapons. Preferably with lots of high-power ammunition.

As Christians, we subscribe to a different creed. "Your Word is eternal, oh Lord," writes the Psalmist. "It stands firm in the heavens." The Bible is the most printed, most translated, most hated, and most attacked book ever. It has survived more persecutions, more burnings, and more purgings - even by "Christians" - than any other book. And it has survived, even thrived. Untold thousands of people like Tyndale have given their lives to protect the Book - but they did not take lives in its defence. There will never come a day when one man with a machete and a pair of sunglasses has to defend the last Bible. God will take care of that.

"Book of Eli" Trailer


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    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      One thing I like about Denzel Washington is his characters are usaully quiet and reflective. Contrast that with Samuel l Jackson who is always angery, swearing and violent.

    • Diane Inside profile image

      Diane Inside 

      8 years ago

      I just saw this movie the other night, and I have to say I really liked it. It to me showed the faith of one man and what he would do to protect the last Bible on Earth. It also showed the significance of the Bible and how it would survive above all else. Of course the karan and other books were easy to find because noone was threatened by them They knew they were not the true word. But the bible survived even after a large attempt to destroy any trace of its existance. It was just a beautiful movie.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      (I think it is odd that people have such strong opinions on a movie they haven't even seen...)

      I just came from the theatre, I am a christian, and I absolutely loved the movie! Yes, the movie is violent, but the character Eli himself quotes, "In all these years I've been carrying it and reading it every day, I got so caught up in keeping it safe that I forgot to live by what I learned from it." You get to see Eli change throughout the book (not stepping in to save a woman from being attacked to taking a bullet for another). As a human, he admits that he does wrong, and he is a sinner. That is why he needs the power contained in the words of that book! He realizes that it isn't the book itself that is powerful, but rather the message inside. He walks by faith, and not by sight.

      I also loved the scene where Solara is praying with her mom after Eli prays with her over the dinner table. Even though she didn't understand Prayer, she understood that it was missing from her life and her culture. Upon deeper understanding of the book, she realized that she wanted God in her life too, and in the end chose to go back home and share the good news!

      What I didn't like was the fact that they only stuck to the old testament. :(

      I would definitely recommend it!

    • NoRR4Me profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey doitrightnow, I disagree but that's ok. However, if the movie was trying to portray the Bible as the book above all other books, it would not have placed it with other books that are opposed to it. It's confusion. The doctrines and beliefs are diametrically opposed to one another. For example, the Bible says Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but one of the other "holy books" say that God had no son. One says love your enemies, the other one says kill the infidel. They both can't be right.

      It's puzzling, you seem to be defending the very movie you just complained about being too violent. The movie did not promote the true message of the Bible. It diluted it and it caused confusion. Hollywood can make one world religion movies if it wants to, but they shouldn't try to pass it off as being Christian.

      By the way, carrying a copy of a Bible tucked under your arm means NOTHING if it isn't carried in your heart.

      Just my 2cents.

    • doitrightnow profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Juan, PR

      NoRR4Me, you make some interesting points. However, having not seen the movie, you take the other holy books out of context a bit. You see, the group that Eli was taking the Bible too was not a religious group. They were a group dedicated to preserving whatever remnants of human civilization existed. They were finding and reprinting all important books, like the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Shakespeare, and others. It's hard for even a committed Christian to say that the Koran and other books have no significance as a part of human history. They put the Bible in their religious reference section.

      So yes, this group saw the Bible as just another religious book, perhaps. But they were just a plot device to make it all work. The subtext of the story was that the Bible is a book above all other books. As the head of this nonreligious group said when he put the Bible into the shelf, "Now we have it all. Without this book we have no culture, no civilization."

      I was left a bit uncomfortable about some messages of Book of Eli. But the idea that it promoted the Bible as "just another book" is a bit much. Eli's motivation to save the Bible was purely faith based. He clearly states that God told him to save it. He just happened to use a secular group to do it.

      After all, at the end, you didn't see Solara taking off with a copy of Shakespeare tucked under her arm. It was a Bible.

    • NoRR4Me profile image


      8 years ago

      The violence in the movie is not the only thing bad in there. It's one world religion.

      I didn't go to see this movie, but have heard reviews from other Christians. They called the movie, "The book of e LIES". The movie was made out to be "Christian" movie, but it's turns out to be just another Hollywood attack on true Christianity and a plug for world religion.

      The book that was supposed to save the world was not a real King James Bible as the stated in the movie and when Eli delivers the book to the destination. It is placed with other so-called "holy books" of other religions. That's one world religion. That's the end all message of the movie. It's not of God.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Wow...sounds pretty violent. Think I will pass on seeing this one, but thanks for the review. Denzel Washington is always a good actor.


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