It is not too often that I go see a “guy movie” with my buddies that leaves me wanting to go home and read my Bible. It’s a rare event that a secular movie makes me want to be a better follower of Christ.
The Book of Eli is just such a movie on both counts.
That said, DO NOT GO SEE THIS MOVIE if your conscience is bothered by violence. The movie is borderline gory in parts; after all, it’s a survivalist tale set in post-apocalyptic America. For the record it earned every bit of its “R” rating, so it is definitely not for kids. There are lots of scenes of violence, as well as quite a bit of language. There is violence against women, and a scene where sexual violence is implied off screen. If those elements in a movie bother you, I would avoid it. You can find a full rundown of the elements of the movie for good or bad at PluggedIn. Personally I am not sensitive to these areas, though I am quite sensitive to sexual content. There was nothing in the movie that bothered my conscience or caused me to stumble from that respect.
If the violence doesn’t scare you off then this movie is a must-see for Christians. It is, as the Plugged In review suggests, the most explicitly Christian film produced by a secular film company in…well…a long time. (The Passion of the Christ doesn’t count because it was in effect an indie film made by a rich guy, not a secular company) I saw it with 5 other men from church tonight and we all agreed that it challenged our walk with Christ in good and meaningful ways.
WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON.
There was so much about this movie to like from a spiritual level. First off, the Bible is treated by Eli with reverence and respect. His whole mission in life is to protect it, because every known copy was destroyed after a nuclear holocaust because people believed it was the source of the war. He reads it every day for 3o years! He knows it so well that he is able to quote it verbatim whenever the situation demands it, even when his life is in danger.
This knowledge of Scripture ends up being phenomenally important to the plot of the movie. Eli ends up losing the Book to the bad guy, Carnegie. However, that loss ends up being of no consequence, because in his daily reading he has literally memorized the entire Bible in English. He is able to reproduce it from memory! He ended up not needing a Bible in front of him because it was written on his heart and seared into his mind by constant reading and memorization. It reminded me of what God said in Jeremiah 31:33 when declaring the New Covenant:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
I found this to be a great reminder that I am not serious enough about my Bible memorization. Sure I spend time studying the Bible, but I need to spend more time in memorizing Scripture. I don’t think that I can memorize the whole Book, but I can certainly work on a paragraph! We had to memorize about 15 verses for a theology class I had in seminary, so I know I can do it. I just have to take it seriously enough to actually do.
I also loved how Eli grew as a character and a Christ-follower throughout the movie. Early on we see him moving west at the urging of God from within him, but not paying particular attention to some of the greater commands in the Book he is reading. He allows a woman to be raped because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his mission to protect the Book, though clearly throughout the movie he is supernaturally protected. It is only when he is willing to sacrifice himself, and even the Book, to show love for another person (Solara, the female lead) that the plot of the movie takes a major step forward. Once he begins not only to know the content of the Word of God but to put it into practice, he begins to truly live out his mission from God.
What a lesson! It’s not simply knowing Scripture but living out what God says that makes for transformed lives. This is just what Jesus says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Do we know the Word or do we live the Word? Eli was so stuck on protecting the Book from harm that he didn’t take the time to live it out in the world he lived in, as crazy as it was. That ethic plays out in our lives in many ways as well, as we study it and debate it but often fail to live it.
The struggle between those who misuse the Scriptures and those who want God to be seen through them is also clear in the movie. Eli wants God’s Word to be held high and esteemed, while Carnegie wants to use it as a weapon to enslave people. Eli has good intentions, while Carnegie only wants power over others.
In the end it is clear that God protects Eli to accomplish his mission and in the end takes away everything Carnegie seeks to have because of his greed and ambition. This is not overly subtle, which in my mind was great. God protects His Word from misuse eventually, even when it looks like the bad guys win. I can hear the Psalmist calling out for vengeance against enemies in this movie, and hear and see the Lord answering.
I also loved Eli’s sexual ethics. While the other characters treat women as objects for sexual gratification, Eli does not. Solara is basically offered to him as a prostitute to bribe him, but Eli won’t even consider sleeping with her. Instead he offers her a meal and teaches her to pray before she eats and thank God. He didn’t evangelize her, but he also didn’t ask her permission to be open and talk to God. He protects Solara from being raped later on in the movie and sacrifices himself and the Book for her life. It is clear that his interest is not in any way sexual. His respect for others extends beyond this, as he is even very polite to good people who he comes across:
There were several funny (if morbid) moments in the film too. I loved it when he tells a random bad guy in the beginning that if he touched him again that he would not get his hand back. (It was almost like he was a red-shirt on a Star Trek away team at that point…you knew he was gonna die!) After a good bit of butt-kicking, the bad guy whose hand is of course removed is in shock and trying to scoot over to get his dismembered hand, but Eli moves it away from him, saying, “I told you that you wouldn’t get that back.” He isn’t mean-spirited about it, just matter-of-fact. Yucky, but funny.
There were only a very few elements that I balked at. At the end of the movie, what the world has is an English New King James Bible. That’s great, but it was written in Greek and Hebrew! It is placed on a shelf next to the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian Old Testament) and the Qur’an, so it’s not given special place by the library it ends up in. The Tanakh appears to be in Hebrew, but in the movie there will then be no New Testament in Greek which is troublesome for this Bible geek. We have no inerrancy outside of the original languages, and as Martin Luther famously said,
“And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments…Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.”
I was grossed out by the cannibalism in the movie, but that is part of the post-apocalyptic vibe. Thankfully this is never explicitly shown, though there is some “meat” at one point that probably was human. Blech.
At the end of the day, for those who are not bothered by strong violence or language I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie. Go see it with some friends and then get a cup of coffee and talk about the biblical issues it presents. Consider your commitment to God and to His Word. Think and talk and pray about whether you know the Bible or live it. Which side of James 1:22-25 are you on today, and is that the side you want to be on?
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;
24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.