- Image by scriptingnews via Flickr
This is a Spoiler Alert people! This movie has a bit of a ‘twist’ ending which I will talk about. If you haven’t seen it and don’t like spoilers you might want to watch the flick before reading this.
Anyway…I was born and grew up during the Cold War. Ah, the good ol’ days. Younger readers might not know it but we were reasonably certain that the whole world was going to be blasted into the Dark Ages with Nuclear Missiles.
Sound scary? More like awesome! At least according to the scads of movies I watched like A Boy and His Dog and The Road Warrior and Steel Dawn. There were enough of them that post-apocalypse was a whole genre and they all had the same tag line–“In a post-apocalyptic world a lone warrior…”
Of course the Berlin Wall fell and then the Soviet Bloc fell and I had a basement full of canned food and a crossbow I would never use to fight off gasoline pirates. After the Cold War ended movies stopped being about nuclear winter and started being about horrible diseases (Outbreak, Twilight). But then the Hughes brothers go retro and give us a classic post-apocalypse movie. Written by Gary Whitta and starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman.
Everything is as it should be. We have a blasted skeleton of a world where human life is cheap and soap and water are valuable. We have the Lone Warrior walking through the desert. No surprise that Denzel is both calm and cool but tough and menacing. He fights and kills when he has to but tries to avoid trouble and just “stay on the path.” In addition to his pump shotgun, bow, and sword, he carries a book. He reads from it every day before locking it and carefully wrapping it up.
We then meet Carnegie the Overlord of a small town. Carnegie just happens to have road crews out searching for books. For one book in particular and it’s not hard to figure out that book is the very one carried by our Lone Warrior. It’s also not hard to figure out that the book is a Holy Bible. The two men meet and when Carnegie finds out about the book he’s willing to kill to get it. The Warrior fights his way out and retakes his Path. He’s followed by a young woman named Solara (Mila Kunis) who’s curious about him and why the book is so valuable.
Of course Carnegie and his henchmen pursue them and eventually the Warrior is cornered and has to give up the book in exchange for Solara’s life. Carnegie takes the book and shoots the Warrior, leaving him for dead. He doesn’t die though and manages to keep up his quest despite his grievous wound. With Solara’s help he travels West to Alcatraz and finally names himself (Eli, of course) and tells the people there he has in his possession a King James Bible. Alcatraz is apparently a sort of armed monastery where a small group of literati are saving books from the world that was.
Of course as soon as the bad guy gets the book and the good guy just lets it go; savvy movie goers know that something’s up. They start trying to figure out the twist and there is one. Normally I don’t like to spoil endings but I’ve already gotten into an argument about this ending so I’m just going to say it. Eli is blind. When Carnegie gets the lock open on the bible it’s written in braille. Back at Alcatraz Eli recites the book he’s read every day without fail for thirty years to be transcribed.
This is how to do a ‘twist’ ending. It’s a trick and a payoff to be sure but it isn’t a gimmick. It affects the story but it isn’t the point of the story. It’s subtle enough that I had to go back and watch it and say ‘I’ll be damned, that dude was blind the whole time.’
The movie obviously deals with religion and faith but this too is subtle. By moving the story to a world where nobody has religion or faith, the storyteller can move past contemporary ideas of both. In fact there’s no real preaching to the story. The book means one thing to Eli and another to Carnegie. Carnegie is the ‘bad guy’ no doubt but he’s not evil. He wants the book to give people hope so he can rebuild a civilisation with safety and order. Sounds kinda reasonable actually.
So what we have here is a well paced and beutifully shot action movie with a couple of strong leads. We also have an engaging story about what’s worth fighting for beyond mere survival. The Wasteland Warrior character brought full circle to his archetypal roots of a knight on a spiritual quest. In short, some good Storytelling.