“Book of Eli:” Read the Sparknotes

As John Lennon would say, “Imagine there are no countries, it isn’t hart do to.” Also imagine there is no religion, no possessions, with greed and hunger as a commonplace affliction. Now picture an enlightened man wandering the desert, add an excessive dose of violence, mixed with a wandering plot and you have two-time Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington’s newest movie “The Book of Eli.”

“The Book of Eli” is a very unique movie because an audience member can be more than 35 minutes late for the movie and still not miss anything vital to the story.

The movie begins in the aftermath of a cataclysmic war where details on what actually happened are as hard to come by as the presence of meaningful dialogue. This desolate wasteland may appear to be a shameless rip-off of recent post-apocalyptic movies such as “Terminator: Salvation” and “I Am Legend” on the surface but as time progresses audience members discover the true depth of this apocalyptic nightmare. Not only is water scarce but people are willing to murder for it if they don’t have moist towelettes from KFC in order to trade with.

During this time we meet Denzel Washington’s character, a nomad equipped with a “forever-sharp” machete and a pistol that never seems to run out of bullets. For a little over an hour, the audience wanders through the desert with a character with no name. Only about three quarters of the way through the movie is the character’s name, Eli, revealed but is only shown once and is never spoken again for the rest of the movie. One could guess that this lack of information is to morph Washington’s character into a kind of Clint Eastwood “Man With No Name” persona but this gaping hole in character development may serve to agitate audience members instead of engaging them.

After battling and maiming scores of desert bandits, Denzel Washington’s character, (I suppose we should call him Eli, even though it’s not revealed for another two thirds of the story) ends up at a recovering village living out of the ruins of a city. Wow, whatever happened during this war, not only wiped out everything green from the face of the earth but also utterly destroyed a bunch of cities. Gee, if only I knew what exactly happened.

After a bar fight with some motorcycle riding rough customers, Eli comes face-to-face with the village leader and villain Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie is a very strange individual whose hobbies include reading, ordering his illiterate motorcycle gang to scour the surrounding area to discover a book, spoiling his woman, Claudia (Jennifer Beals) with precious goods like hotel issued shampoo, and then beating her for no apparent reason.

That night, when Eli has a sleepover with Solara (Mila Kunis), Claudia’s daughter, a plot dramatically takes form. Audience members find out that there is in fact a reason for Eli’s aimless wandering and that is to journey west with humanity’s final copy of the King James Bible in his possession. Upon discovering this, Carnegie tries to obtain Eli’s book, first by asking for it kindly like a civilized man and then by brutally shooting at Eli like an uncouth thug. The motive for this violence is that Carnegie believes Eli’s book could be used as a weapon.

Eli then leaves the city to continue his wandering westward. Solara tags along and Eli brings her with him against his better judgment. Upon learning that Eli and Solara are gone, Carnegie scours the desert with a band of armor-plated SUV’s, apparently water is a scarcity in this post-apocalyptic world but gasoline isn’t.

Eli and Carnegie have a climactic showdown outside a rundown farmhouse that’s run by a heat-packing grandma and grandpa couple who serve the sole purpose of comic relief. This climactic showdown employs mindboggling physics and excellent cinematography but does not resolve the conflict.

The story continues after this battle with twists in the plot that are certain to strangle the audience. These twists consist of revelations so colossal in importance that the plausibility of the story becomes all but defunct.

The actual message of “The Book of Eli” revolves around the ideals of practicing what one preaches and believing faith is a firm foundation. However, these ideals are shrouded behind this film’s violent context. Violence is not only commonplace in this movie, but excessive, especially against the women in this story.

“The Book of Eli” is really a two-part movie where the first part is a wandering plot-less story devoid of meaning and consequence. Then suddenly, in the second part, courtesy of deep philosophical concepts, the story suddenly develops a plot --ungainly heavy though it may be-- engaging the audience for nothing more than to see how many more sudden and irrational turns the plot can take before the end. Although intriguing and benevolent concepts are the main message of the movie, the whole experience is stuffed full of excessive violence, guaranteeing a bumpy ride for any audience member. The commercials may say “believe in hope” but the real content of the story screams “hope this never happens, believe me.” ★★★

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.