The film The Book of Eli directed by the Hughes brothers is a cinematic display of dystopian genius. Many dystopian films critique government involvement, privacy issues, and ethical concerns. However in The Book of Eli, the Hughes brothers take a jump to a different part of modern society: religion. Numerous religions are practiced in society as they are protected under the first amendment. The written word can be interpreted many different ways whether it is for good or evil and this film does a great job outlining the interpretations.
The Book of Eli is a dystopian symbol for how organized religion is abused in modern society. Religion as a whole is seen throughout the film. Eli, the main character, believes that his purpose on Earth is to bring the Bible out West and to protect it. He is a religious man, regularly reading and praying from the book. He is devout and puts the books’ protection before other ethical issues.
In the film, Eli encounters a woman being gang-raped.
He proceeds to say” follow the path, follow the path.” He continues moving because his only mission is to get the Bible to the West. Eli believes that God put him on Earth to carry the book to the West, so he will do anything to get it there. The beginning of the film outlines Eli as having the inclination of protecting the book, yet he doesn’t quite understand the message of compassion found within the words. In this same way, we see religious zealots who “believe” in their religion so strongly that they sometimes ignore those that have less than them. Eli could’ve helped the woman being raped but instead continued with his journey, not straying in the least. These days, people go to church to hear preachers talk of compassion and loving forgiveness but once Mass is over, sure enough there is always a fight in the parking lot when everyone is trying to leave in a hurry.
For many, these scriptures go in one ear and out the other and only certain passages are held on to because they deal with the problems faced only at that very moment. Carnegie’s mission is one of the most important parts of the film. He is in a long search for the Bible and is one of the only people who can still read. He yearns to rebuild civilization and become a dictator to many towns. He believes that the Bible holds power. With the book, Carnegie believes that he will be able to gain followers as long as he uses the written word. Carnegie and his men only see the Bible as a means of control, and do not see the true meaning of the written word: compassion, devotion, and freedom. This also mirrors the current situation with the Vatican. The Pope claims that condoms will worsen the African AIDS crisis.
He believes “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.” The Pope is trying to use his religion to keep power over the African people. 67% of people with HIV live in Africa, so by him preaching to not use condoms, he will reach a significant amount of people. In a dire situation like this, the Pope will use his religion to convey his message of God. Religions like this one could be used to build morality in people by taking stories and finding the values in them. However, they can also be used to attack certain individuals and be used as a means of control. Eli and Carnegie resemble both sides and warn of the evils that can come from an otherwise useful tool to teach from. Sunglasses also play a powerful role in the film as Eli wears them mysteriously throughout.
The audience does not know why this is until the end of the movie when it is revealed that Eli is at least partially blind, if not completely. Looking back at the film, hints are dropped to suggest that Eli lacks vision. A significant line he says is “I walk by faith not by sight.” This can be interpreted in many ways. Eli walks with the Bible, his faith, to the west coast. He feels God put him on Earth to bring the bible to the west to preserve it along with other important books of faith that will later be used to recreate civilization. While walking, he is guided by God’s message instead of what he is able to see in front of him. Only two people in the film are able to read the book: Eli and Solara’s mother.
Those who can’t see are the only ones who can truly read from the book. They are the most pure in the sense that they cannot see the corrupt society around them, so all they have to guide them through life is their faith. In today’s society people are surrounded by the deviant behaviors of sexual activity, drug usage, and violence as entertainment. In order to stay grounded to their own morality, people rely on their faith to guide them. These people are blind to the ills of society because they are confident in their values. The Book of Eli does a phenomenal job of describing abuses of religion in modern society, however, the concept it much bigger than that.
In a perfect world, there are perfect people and no problems. In today’s society people do whatever they want with their money, time, religion, etc. There are no ground roots to fall back on. The people are the ones creating chaos; it’s not any one specific event. However, people place the blame on anything they can think of: money, time, religion, etc. Most people use this blame to gain control, and then it becomes a power struggle. This film was meant for the audience to think beyond the religious undertone, and realize the real issue: themselves.