Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Book of Eli" with Denzel Washington, Gary Oldham and Mila Kunis

In a world destroyed by the "big flash" everything has value. Eli, played by Denzel Washington, is a survivor. He roams the post-apocalyptic world of 2043. Scavenging for anything he can find to survive is a full time job. But he also has a mission.

Wandering westward is not easy. Finding food is as difficult a prospect as avoiding the bands of survivors, who will kill for a pair of shoes, or an extra shirt. Water is a tremendous problem. When Eli stumbles upon an abandoned house, he searches it for food and stumbles upon an i-pod, which he charges from an old car battery.

As he continues on his travels he meets a woman with a broken down shopping cart, apparently in need of his assistance. But he can smell the trap before it is sprung, and fighting for his life he prevails, takes what he needs, and then continues on his journey West. He doesn't get far before witnessing an attack on a man and woman from his perch on a highway overpass. The bikers kill the man, assault the woman, and for some unknown reason take all of the books the couple had in their possession.

When he arrives at the next town he recognizes some of the men there as the bikers who asssaulted the couple out on the road. He also meets their leader, Carnegie, played by Gary Oldham, who is obsessed with books. He is searching for a special book, one that sets the rules for their behavoir. Little does he know that Eli has the very book he is looking for. The last copy of the Bible. With this book he hopes to re-establish the world. He also plans to use the book to set himself up as the leader.

Pay attention to the guy who owns the town "store." The part is played by Tom Waits, who recharges Eli's i-pod for a Zippo lighter and some KFC wet naps. Eli then crosses the street to fill his canteen at the bar. He trades an arab scarf and a pair of gloves for the precious liquid. A young woman, Solara, played by Mila Kunis of TV's "That 70's Show", goes to fill his canteen. By the time she returns Eli has gotten into a major fight with the bikers. Though he is winning, he stops at Solara's insistence, and taken to meet Carnegie.

Carnegie recognizes that Eli is an educated man who is well versed in his scripture. He wants Eli to stay and help him control the town, but Eli refuses. Carnegie insists. He sends his blind woman, Claudia, to bring Eli food. He also sends Claudia's daughter, Solara, to sleep with him.

Eli refuses her advances, but allows her to stay the night in order to avoid her being punished by Carnegie for having been unworthy of her assignment. So the two stay up that night as he recites beautiful words, ones which Solara has never heard before. They talk about the last days before the war and Eli shows her how to say Grace before eating. She is clearly enthralled with her newfound spiritual knowledge. She wants to know more about the book that Eli keeps hidden.

When the morning arrives and Solara returns to Claudia and Carnegie, she recites Grace before the meal. Carnegie now knows that Eli has the Book. He approaches him and begs him to stay. When Eli refuses a violent confrontation takes place, and Eli winds up leaving. Eli dreams of finding a town where the people will use the book for good, rather than evil. At this point in the movie you find out that the last war, which destroyed civilization as we know it, all began because of the Book. Carnegie wants to use the words in the Book to control the world, while Eli dreams of using the Book to free the human soul.

Solara has followed Eli out of town, and after a series of mishaps, finally catches up to him, begging him to take her with him. He refuses, locking her in a cave, from which she escapes and catches up to him. They are now united. He explains to her that his is the only copy left of the Bible. All of the others were destroyed after the war, as they were perceived to be the root cause of the conflict.

As the two travel further West, they encounter many obstacles, including an old couple, George and Martha, living in a house out in the desert. There seems to be no food, yet the couple are healthy looking. Realizing that he and Solara might just be the next meal, they decide to leave. But before they can make their escape they see Carnegie's group approaching, and so retreat back to the old couples home. George and Martha have quite the collection of weapons, and eagerly await the arrival of Carnegie and his men.

During the resulting gunfight, George and Martha are killed, and Eli and Solara captured. When Carnegie takes the book, he shoots Eli, and places Solara in a van with another of the bikers in charge. Solara manages to strangle the driver and finds Eli, alive, still walking West, and they continue the journey together.

Arriving in San Francisco, Eli decides that he must begin to put the lessons he learned from the Book to use. Rowing across to Alcatraz Island, he calls out to a guard that he has a King James Bible. He is taken to the curator, Lombardi, played by Malcolm McDowell, who is gathering all that he can from the pre-war years in order to re-establish civilization. The only thing they don't have is a Bible. Eli has memorized the entire Bible and starts to recite it as the scribes take it all down and begin to print it on an old copying machine.

Meantime, when Carnegie unlocks the Bible he has taken from Eli, he is shocked to find that it is written in Braille. He asks his blind woman, Claudia, to read it to him. She lies and tells him that she has forgotten how to read Braille. As a result of this failure, Carnegie loses control of his men, who then turn on him, and one another.

Back on Alcatraz Island, Eli has completed his task and dies from the earlier gunshot wound. Placing a copy of the Bible on his tombstone, Solara takes Eli's machete and iPod, heading down the road, presumably to further spread the light of the "word."

This film is not my usual fare. However, it is so well written and acted, that it draws you in. Each character is symbolic. Each action has a meaning rooted in the despair of today's world. In short, it's not that difficult to imagine the world as it is portrayed in this film. Outstanding performances by all, with the biggest surprise coming from Mila Kunis, known mainly for her role as the zany "Jackie" on TV's "That 70's Show." This is the first real film role that I have seen her in. And I think we will be seeing much more of her down the road.

This film was an unexpected pleasure to watch.

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