by NIR SHALEV
The Hughes Brothers are not household names, and probably never will be but in the artsy section of our minds we remember the movies Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995), and the grossly underrated From Hell (2001). Now they bring us a vision that is reminiscent of the more recent graphic novel adaptations, movies like Sin City and 300. But this film contains what the others lack and that is, a certain degree of intellectuality. There are many parallels apparent, many ironic gestures, and overall it’s a gorgeous looking film.
A war broke out thirty years back and tore a hole in the sky, and a powerful light scorched the entire Earth. In anger, its entire population burned every copy of The Holy Bible and other religious tomes, blaming religion as the source of the apocalypse. In the present, in the wasteland that is now America, motorcycle gangs and standard desert punks, a la Mad Max roam and murder and rape helpless individuals. Older folk barely exist because in this country only the strong survive and this country is unnecessarily violent. We see a man who calls himself Eli, (Denzel Washington) who’s been walking westward through the desert for the past thirty years. He’d been told by a voice to go west and that his final stop would present itself to him upon arrival. Eli sports a slight beard and dark sunglasses, and is armed with a shotgun and a surgically sharp machete. Throughout the past thirty years he’d picked up some very effective close-quarters combat skills and can easily defend himself in any fist or firefight.
Eli enters a small town and seeks water and food. He never asks for trouble but ends up murdering six or seven thugs in self defense. Their boss Carnegie (Gary Oldman) sees Eli as a great candidate for employee because he’d been searching for a specific book for many decades and wants his help in finding it. Little does he know Eli is carrying the only copy of the King James Bible in his backpack and that’s the same book that Carnegie wants. Mila Kunis plays Solara, the daughter of a blind woman that belongs to Carnegie and when she meets Eli she immediately wants to leave with him. Carnegie makes life difficult for Solara, her mother, and for Eli and when Eli escapes Carnegie’s clutches it’s a battle for survival in the desert.
Here’s what I like about the film: Eli is a soldier of God and as long as he’s set on his path nothing can stop him from accomplishing his task. We see him slice arms off, like Toshiro Mifune did in Yojimbo (1961) and defeat a group of armed men with just a pistol. He is entirely fearless and is rather awesome. Washington plays Eli with care, he’s worn and referred to as “old” by many characters in the film, but can outlive anyone because he’s got faith and experience. Gary Oldman on the other hand, plays Carnegie as a very bad man. He cares for no one but himself and doesn’t even have a conscience. He’s also awesome to watch.
I like the nods to Yojimbo and Mad Max 2: the Road Warrior (1981) and I like the appearance and feeling of a Sergio Leone-esque western. Here’s an awesome line spoken by Gary Oldman: “He’s just a man. You put a bullet in him he’ll go down like any other.”
Another thing about the film that I like is that more of the population is young than old and it goes to show what happens when anarchy reigns. There’s a general lack of appreciation for others; it’s not that religion brings people together and makes them humanitarians, rather it’s natural for humans to turn on one another. The world in the film is not atheist or agnostic but everyone simply blames religion for their problems. (And studying history one may notice that almost every war waged was done so in the name of God; the U.S. even lives through a holy war as we speak.) This film does not advocate religion in any way. One man believes that God had chosen him to deliver faith unto others and another man remembers growing up with the Bible and wants the book to remind him of better times. They will kill one another to get what they want and both hope that the book will help them in life in one way or another. There’s also a nice twist at the end which calls into question whether Eli really had been helped by God or not.
My favorite part of the film is that the sky and clouds can be seen in almost every shot of it. Whether we believe that God is watching over Eli the entire time or not is immaterial because this film caters to agnostics too, like me. There’s always science following religion and it’s always just within reach.
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