DVD Review: The Book of Eli

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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.

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One Good Detail

“…you see, a .45 will blow a barn door out the back of your head.  There’s alot of drycleaning involved.  Whereas a .22 will just rattle around in your brain like Pacman ’til you die.”    –Vinnie Antonelli from My Blue Heaven.

So, I’m halfway through World War Z by Max Brooks and it’s about the third time he mentions a firearm that’s in .22 caliber.  I just sort of glossed over it at first but I just finished a scene where an air force pilot has to bail out and defend herself with her issued weapon, a .22.  The .22 is not a combat round but as I sat there I had to shake my head at the brilliance. 

The .22 is not a combat round for people but it’s the perfect round for a zombie apocalypse.  With materiel in short supply the forces of the living need a cheap, plentiful cartridge that fires from a broad spectrum of firearms.  A zombie has one kill zone, the brain, so even a civilian who’s never touched a firearm needs to be able to make consistent head shots at variable ranges with very little training.  The accurate and low recoiling .22 is pretty much designed for that very thing.  Quite literally, a child can do it. 

Even if gun and ammo production completely stopped this instant there are literally millions of rounds to be had and scads of handy rifles, carbines, and handguns that will all chamber that one round.  The round is comically cheap to produce and weighs less than most normal combat pistol rounds.  You can acquire and carry a butload and they’ll do the job. 

So what?  Well that one detail did more than anything else to cement the book world as real in my mind.  The .22 is not a sexy movie gun but it’s the perfect answer to the problem of zombie combat.  That one good detail that shows rather than tells that this universe is real and these events are actually happening. 

These details are usually small and are probably more effective the smaller they seem.  There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings where we catch a brief glance of Strider sharpening his sword.  Just a few seconds but it tells us this is a real weapon and he knows how to take care of it. 

In No Country for Old Men Llewellyn Moss shoots a pronghorn and ejects the shell.  He watches the antelope through the scope but before he starts to track it he picks up the spent casing and puts it in his pocket.  Maybe he just doesn’t like to litter.  Or maybe he’s a trained sniper taught to leave no trace.  If he’s a trained soldier we might believe he has better odds against the psycho chasing him. 

You probably can’t force these details and you definitely want them to be subtle, barely noticed.  But if you find one and a spot to use it, do so.  They’re incredibly effective.