The movie centers around a “wanderer,” of sorts, crossing the U.S. by foot ~30 years after a nuclear holocaust. He’s a survivor, doing what he must to get his book across the country for initially unknown reasons. The world is a wasteland, with people fighting over things that we take for granted now (alcohol wipes, shampoo, water, etc.). The film makers also do a good job of making the color palate somewhat “bland,” where parts of the movie seem almost “black and white,” even though it’s in color. The muted colors really give it that “western movie” feel, with the lone fighter crossing the frontier, reluctantly helping those that need it.
The story itself is rather interesting, and while it seems to move slowly at parts, it’s still an fascinating and “different” concept for a film. As you may guess, the book that Washington is carrying across the country is the Bible, presumably the last one in existence as all of them were destroyed following the nuclear holocaust (which, we find out, was at least partially caused by the religious differences between cultures on Earth). The primary bad guy, played by Gary Oldman, wants to get a copy of the Bible so he can use it’s “power” in order to coax people into following him, in the process explaining that the same thing had been done many time before (i.e. bad people doing things “in the name of God,” and those people convincing others that they hold “The Truth” of existence). Washington’s character, Eli, was told in a vision to take the book west, where it would be safe, and on this trail, it certainly appears that he is protected from On High, especially against Oldman’s forces. The movie basically centers around this conflict, although the mythology they lay out helps to “fill in the gaps” of the reasons for the nuclear war, and what has transpired in its aftermath.
Usually, I try not to explain such details of a movie like this, but it was very unexpected and I think it really heightened my enjoyment of the film. It is one of those rare cases where the movie I expect to be completely sci-fi oriented was actually not very “sci-fi” at all, but instead somewhat thought-provoking in the ideas it’s putting forth. It provides an interesting take on some of the forces at work today, when there are those out there that use the Bible and its teachings for their own ends.
(as a brief aside, Mila Kunis‘ character asks Eli what he has gotten out of reading the Bible every day, and he responds: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” If I were asked the same question, I’d have the same answer. Many would say “the point” is more along the lines of John 3:16, but I’d go with the Golden Rule, personally.)
“The Book of Eli” probably won’t go down as one of 2010’s greatest movies, but I think it was a surprising gem that is well worth renting, if not checking out in theaters.