• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Review of Book of Eli at ReJesus

    My review of The Book of Eli is up at rejesus.

    There are a few things that I didn't manage to say in that piece. One is that, despite its weaknesses, I did kind of like it. I think that comes across, but sometimes it's good to be explicit. I'm not sure how well it will work out on DVD, where the imagery will be less impressive making the problems all the more apparent, but I like its sense of giving homage to the enduring importance of the Bible.

    One of the things that adds to this sense of the film as a fable is the violence in the film. From the trailer this looks very much like it will be Eli as an avenging angel, but actually, in the film itself, there are only 4 moments of violence (the confrontation with the bandits under the bridge, the fight in the bar, the gun-fight outside the bar, and the shoot-out in the house). I suppose you could add a few minor moments to that (killing the cat at the start, the attack of the woman which Eli opts out of, and the killing of the men attempting to rape the girl - but these are really only the briefest moments). Of these, the opening one, filmed in a long shot which captures the action via silhouettes underneath a bridge, is particularly striking, not just because it looks so incredible, but because it distances the audience from proceedings, and heightens it's artificialness - adding to that dreamy quality.

    I also thought it was interesting the clues there are to the fact that [highlight to see spoiler]Eli is blind. The glasses are, with hindsight (pardon the pun) an obvious double bluff, as is the general demeanour. But other things throw you off this as well - not always in a way that's fair (see for example the above image in which he doesn't have milky eyes). But there's also the way that Eli handles the Bible, his heightened sense of hearing and lots more that I'd spot on a second viewing. In any case, this final revelation suggests increases the sense that this is not a film set in the real world, but a fantasy fable told to make it's point about the importance of the Bible.

    Finally, the film's handling of the Bible is rather odd. Firstly the central plot device - that the Bible has been erased save this one copy - is patently absurd (in the real world at least). Burning every copy of a given text has frequently proved impossible in the past - when the task would have been so much easier. Now, or at some point in the future it would be nigh on impossible. Aside from the millions of copies, in hundreds of languages (and this is a very American-centric movie), there's also the numerous quotations and citations in numerous other works (and of course most of these have a handy referencing system which would make reconstruction even easier) not to mention other formats such as the bible on tape, CD, and, of course, film.

    Following on from that, the Bible was not a book to appear out of the sky in isolation, but something that was, in part a product of the church, and is, some would argue, best interpreted by the church. I'm a little less certain on that second point, but certainly the decision as to which books etc. became part of the New Testament was a decision made by the church, and not just a bunch of church leaders, but in all of those who had a hand in promoting, using, venerating those works over a few hundred years so that they were the books that came into contention for selection.

    And of course what we see at the end of the film is that The librarians already have a copy of the Tanakh, so the Old Testament is pretty much covered. So really Eli's job has just been to protect the New Testament.

    I owe some of those thoughts to Peter Chattaway, from a discussion a group of us are having at Arts and Faith.



    • At 2:08 pm, January 18, 2010, Anonymous Beau Brotherton said…

      My wife and I really enjoyed it. I know that there could have been different things, bit what movie isn't like that. It tells a story, had action, good acting, looked great, and had a nice little twist at the end. And I do believe the central character did bring Glory to God's Name. Well done.


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