i had the very cool experience, the other day, of getting to see an early screening of the book of eli, the new film starring denzel washington, gary oldman, and mila kunis, and directed by the hughes brothers. and, to make the whole thing even more surreal, i had a chance to sit in with a small group of “religious press” (about 8 of us — how i qualified is still a bit beyond me) who met one-at-a-time with each of those three stars, and alan hughes.
short movie summary (you can read more on the website): denzel plays eli, a man living in a post-apocalyptic america, carrying a bible on a “mission from god” (ht: blues brothers) to a destination and result he doesn’t know. gary oldman plays carnagie, a despot with complexity (aren’t the best despots always 3-dimensional?) who lords over a small town and a compulsion to find a bible. mila kunis plays solara, carnagie’s innocent step-daughter, who has never known another world, but finds hope for something more. eli has learned, through his 30 year trek, to defend himself and survive an almost-impossible life alone in this world that does not have room for loners. he’s a one-man machine when it comes to defending his precious cargo, and refuses anything (including companionship, at first) that even offers a hint of distraction or failure in his pilgrimage.
it’s an r-rated, bleak world, with some pretty stunning fight scenes.
but the themes the movie teases out are rich. both eli and carnagie are passionate about the bible, but for very different reasons. carnagie sees it as a weapon, a tool with which to control others, while eli sees it as the only option for redemption in his brutal world. there are a handful of surprises and turns that make the story rich, including one that found me choked up with tears.
when we asked denzel about the change in his character, as he wrestled with whether or not to let solara play a role in his life and quest, he responded, “sometimes we get so focused, in god’s name, and” (i’m paraphrasing here) we need an innocent to stop us in our tracks and re-evaluate. man, that had a ring of youth ministry to me, or christian ministry in general. i know there have been many times in my life when a teenager has been used by god to bring me re-focus on my own pilgrimage.
i loved alan hughes’ response when he was asked why he chose the bible, and not just a non-descript sacred book. he simply said, “it had to be the bible! it’s the bible, man!” he went on to say, “the bible is in the movie, but it’s not a movie about the bible. it’s about one man’s faith, and one could use the bible to enslave, and another to set free.” gah. that’s some rich stuff for hollywood.
the thought i was left with the most, as jeannie and i talked about the movie for hours, was how all of us have the potential to “use” the bible to our own ends. we find what we want in scripture, to support our own desires — good and evil, conscious and subconscious. we all do this, even the best-intentioned. eli makes a comment, late in the film, about his own shift. i don’t have the exact wording; but it was something along the lines of how he’d been protecting the bible for so long that he’d lost sight of allowing it’s message to guide him. man, that’s a sermon worth preaching, and worth hearing.