The Hughes Bros. and Eli’s Book: The Bible as MacGuffin

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Okay, so my review isn’t going up until Friday morning, but I’m going to go ahead and say this now: The Book of Eli has the best twist ending I’ve seen in a long, long time. Maybe since The Fountain (which, as we all know by now, was my contender for one of the 5 most underrated sci-fi movie masterpieces)

Maybe you’ll see the surprise coming. I’m sure some of you will even be annoyed by how it all goes down. But I have to be honest here: When I saw the film back before the holidays, the epilogue landed like a punch to the gut. An old-school twist that reshaped the entire story, Sixth Sense-style.

Thus far, I haven’t seen anyone ruin the big surprise (nor will I). All that has been ruined, by the marketing ads and the early write-ups on the movie, is the truth behind the book that’s being carried by Eli (Denzel Washington) across a charred, post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s a Bible, a King James Bible – a fact that we only learn halfway through the ordeal.

I’ve been a little surprised to see the religiosity of the marketing campaign, but perhaps the studio thinks it will draw in a pious crowd – only to immediately terrify them with some brutal, bloody showdowns that are anything but holy. Eli really isn’t a story about the Bible, but rather a story about survival and endurance against overwhelming odds. The Bible could be anything. It’s the source of inspiration – just like the little boy in The Road – in a story about one bad-ass dude wandering the desert, destroying anyone who dares step in his way. It’s an action film, with the Bible as the catalyst that drives the action forward.

It’s also the latest, long-awaited project from the Hughes brothers. You know, the guys who brought you From HellDead Presidents and Menace II Society. They’ve always shown a knack for taking familiar genres and bending them in unexpected directions. And that’s what they’ve done with Book of Eli, kicking things off on the level of an apocalyptic action film, and then veering from Mad Max territory towards something far more philosophical, intelligent and spiritual. That said, the religious aspect of all this is anything but simple, or dogmatic. As Eli carries the book, and as others try to wrestle it away from him, religion keeps taking on different dimensions. In Eli, the book represents a source of strength, a promise of hope, a sense of purpose, a weapon, a con game, an intellectual artifact, and so much more. There are moments where the whole thing plays like a Bible-thumping call to arms for a fundamentalist army, and then there are moments where religion seems at risk of being perverted, distorted and destroyed altogether.

Like I said, Albert and Allen Hughes are hardly simple filmmakers. I posed a few good questions to each – about both Eli, and his good book.

The Book of Eli comes right on the heels of The Road, and 2012 – why do you think so many filmmakers are gravitating towards apocalyptic themes right now?

Albert: After 9/11 I think our mindsets have chanced a little bit. We think about mortality differently, even as a nation – we think of the life of our nation in a way that we never thought before 9/11. So these thoughts and concerns start to take center stage in more movies. Plus, how many damn cop movies can you make.

It seems like you guys are always trying to make genre films while at the same time defying the typical themes of those genres. Or maybe that’s just the journalist in me trying to give everything a theme…

Albert: Well this one’s sort of doing the Freudian thing, I think, with how we were raised biracial and always felt like outsiders looking in, versus being part of the crown. With Menace II Society, a lot of people were thinking we were gang members, but we would just sit there and observe these guys. Same with Dead Presidents. We did the research, and connected to that outsider perspective. It’s a lot like another movie, Midnight Cowboy. Now I’m not comparing us to that but John Schlesinger wasn’t a New Yorker and he damn sure nailed all the details. It’s all about perspective.

More at Techland: 15 Best Gadgets – 2010 Consumer Electronics Show.

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