‘The meek shall inherit the Earth’, says the Holy Bible. The human history of countless (un)holy religious wars though has provided proof to the contrary. The meek always die first. Is the religious text fallacious then? The Hughes Brothers, in The Book Of Eli, ponder over the matter… and offer a subversion to the proclamation, in essence rectifying and rewriting it. That they do it without hurting Catholic sentiments is to screenwriter Gary Whitta’s credit. The moot point of this surprisingly solemn action feature is that in order to follow the holy writ, one must be able to read it. The Good Book thus assumes its role depending on the hands that hold it and the lips that read it. In this film’s world then, it is the literate who shall inherit the Earth.Denzel Washington is a lone roamer in a post-apocalyptic world. Having set adrift an undefined thirty years ago when a cataclysmic event described simply as a ‘flash’ wreaked the apocalypse on mankind, he has been walking westward in hope of delivering a book of great significance that is in his possession. Civilization has made way for wastelands, and human beings themselves have turned into scavengers and cannibals. The only pretense of a human settlement is a lawless village run and controlled by its sole literate, the evil Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who dispatches his scavenging gang to scout for the last remaining copy of the Holy Bible… a book he believes, will give him the power to create and control many more such villages.
In what could have degenerated into a standard action flick, the hook of religion and literacy elevate the narrative into something better. When was the last time you saw a villain whose preferred choice of weapon was a religious text? And while there have been many in the nameless-man-on-a-mission trope, Denzel’s character wants to deliver the Word of God! Both Denzel and Gary make sure though that the film doesn’t get weighed down under the narrative’s sentiments. While Denzel plays his nomad part with just the right amount of self-seriousness, mystery and weariness… Gary puts up a deliciously showy act that works exceptionally well when the two are playing off each other.
Whether it was the recession or the collective guilt of the horribly managed war-on-terror, America and Hollywood have been on an introspective journey with films like 2012, I Am Legend, Legion, Children Of Men and Avatar dealing either with the end of the world or a post-apocalyptic future. It would be easy to dismiss this as a pessimism-obsessed trend but these films perhaps tap into an acknowledged fear and recognize it, and are hence probably optimistic more than anything.Don’t let the marketing campaign fool you. The Book Of Eli isn’t your stock variety action flick. With its washed out monochromatic tone, a production design that imagines the worst possible dystopia and contemplative moments of silence- this is a thinking man’s action movie. Oh, there’s cool gore as well!