The Hughes brothers' latest film, The Book of Eli, stars the second most successful black actor in America, Denzel Washington, and cost an astounding $80 million. The film is set in a world that was decimated by some massive object that probably came from the mysterious Oort Cloud. After the impact, the earth lost all of its lovely colors (they went up with the dust and never fell down again), and what remained was an eternity of sepia. The film opens with a man hunting a hairless, thin cat. The cat is killed by an arrow that's almost as big as it is. The cat is cooked on a fire and eaten with no enjoyment by Eli, a man on a mission.
The movie reduces the world we live in now—our overdeveloped, overprocessed, hyperabundant capitalist civilization—down to its elements. What is the ground of our society? According to The Book of Eli, rape is the essence of all romantic love and the institution of marriage, violence is the essence of law and order, and cannibalism is the essence of all manner of consumption. Without law and order, without protection from violence, women would only have two options: get raped regularly or become prostitutes.
The story itself is elemental. Eli, a postapocalyptic prophet with a sword and shotgun, walks and walks and walks across a desert (40 days and 40 nights) to some place that's expecting, desiring, dreaming of the book he is carrying in a backpack—it's a Bible. He must deliver this book, the last Bible in the world, because a voice in his head, God's voice, told him to do so. The journey is so pure that the destination lacks a proper name.
In one scene, Eli meets Martha and George, the elements of the American civilization. In another scene, Eli meets a young prostitute who wants to give him her body. He refuses and, after offering her some food and a prayer, she gives him her soul—serious Bible scholars will recognize this as a retelling of the Acts of Paul and Thecla (Eli is Paul and the prostitute is Thecla). In another scene, Eli drinks water, the essence of life. The film, however, is not terrible, has several thrilling moments (particularly the camera-crazy shoot-out at the house in the middle of nowhere), and is the best thing the Hughes brothers have done since Menace II Society. And the ending, the bizarre ending—it alone deserves a lengthy scene-by-scene analysis. To give a hint: Those who love the novel Earth Abides will love certain aspects of the ending. Also, those who are fans of the movie A Clockwork Orange will relish the echo.