The Book Of Eli Vs. The Road
The Book Of Eli(2010)
Directed By The Hughes Brothers
Directed By John Hillcoat“They are going to rape me. They are going to rape your son. They are going to kill us and they going to eat us.”-Charleze Theron, The Road
"The Book Of Eli" and "The Road" are basically the same film, like the recent remake of Abel Ferrara’s "Bad Lieutenant" by Werner Herzog one version of the story plays out like a tragedy, the other like a comedy. "The Book Of Eli" is an action adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world where a lone warrior must defend the last copy of the King James Bible from an evil Western-style town warlord. "The Road" is a bleak story of survival set in a post-apocalyptic world where a lone average man must defend his only son from everyone else in the world who are all cannibal’s, thieves, rapists or all of the above. For the man on the road only known as “The Man” his son is evidence of “God on Earth”, his own sense of humanity and desire to continue living personified. His own private God to protect from his own personal heathens.
"The Book Of Eli’s" Eli needs no tangible evidence of God, he hears him in his head “clear as day” and knows he is carrying his “Word”, to where it will be safe. If you don’t want me to spoil "Book Of Eli’s" many twist endings, than just stop reading here (this review is not for you). Eli as it turns out at the end, is really a blind man, and is lead in all of his actions by the hand of God, which will lay down a righteous ass-kicking on all who defy him. Why the lord does not use "Star Trek" teleportation ideas and instead makes Eli walk for 30 years is not mentioned; after all he made Moses walk 40 and don’t even ask what happened to poor Job. Both films have as their implicit messages, God is very, very bored, and so enjoys when not besetting us with Earthquakes, Tsunami’s, and poison monkeys, to watch his creations adventure through the world they have destroyed. “Legion” went a step further recently, asserting as its main plot point that “God has lost faith in mankind” and sends Angel’s to destroy us, of course the obvious question is then why does he not do it himself. Perhaps like the wise old Rabbi in the Cohen’s "A Serious Man”, the lord is busy thinking. The Man in "The Road" is not lead by any voices, and does not even truly believe his mission has a purpose. They are heading to the coast (the same direction as Eli), but are prepared to kill themselves at several times throughout the journey.
The dirty truth about both the western and the post-apocalyptic adventure ("Book Of Eli" is both) is not necessarily that these stories are indicative of the American character our fears and desires, and national identity, or at least that is not why so many of them are made. The truth is they are cheap. It is much cheaper to shoot out in a desert with some overturned cars, or in some abandoned buildings than it is to build a set of some kind of futuristic space ship or architecture. It’s cheap to go bleak. Grant Morisson calls this 20th century literature's “Cold War death wish”, which kept authors and readers from imagining any possible important or meaningful versions of the future besides a junk-yard or an endless war-zone (and why real SF is now more important than ever, certainly it’s bastardized adolescent cousins are now more popular than ever.) That is why Hollywood turned out so many westerns back in the glory days of the western, using the same sets, actors, and extras in multiple films and eventually TV shows made back to back to back. Since apocalypse is always trendiest at the dawn or end of a new century, we see resurgence in films about the end times (see Niel Gaiman and Dave Mckean's graphic novel "Signal To Noise"). "The Book Of Eli", fashions itself the way the ideological (and I’m speaking in generalities now) Right view themselves, as heroes clinging to the faith and tradition of old, and perhaps even appearing blindly to the untrained (philistine) eye, but in service of a higher purpose. "The Road" likewise indulges in the only way the Left can conceive of itself these days, which is sadly as a victim. "The Road" focuses on the harrowing tragedy, human suffering, and ultra-realistic degradation of its characters and all peoples visible at the periphery. The Man is just that, only a nameless person with no higher calling or destiny just trying to get along in a terrible world, and protecting to a fault his secular substitute for a good book, the boy.
Both films are failures, but for my money I prefer "The Book Of Eli". The boy in the Road is a terrible actor. I don’t know if “pappa, papa” was really part of the book, but someone should have had the sense to realize this was going to sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of a human being. Also The Man is a terrible father, he teaches his son nothing useful and treats him the way Roberto Benigni treats his son in “Life Is Beautiful” insulating him from the world so he not suffer it’s true horrors. But if he were truly concerned with his son’s survival, in those the worst possible conditions he would have if not hit the boy, at least raised his voice, or do anything besides coddle him so he would understand the world is not a game.
Evidence of his permissive failure as a parent is the fact that the Boy 1. Loses all of their things falling asleep on the job and only luckily not being raped, killed, and eaten and… 2. Goes off with literally the first stranger who asks him to come with them (in direct contradiction of his fathers dying words). Some may point out that the family following the boy and man, could have turned out like the couple who the Man ends up killing who say “we weren’t following you, you were following us”. It was only chance which can be both fortunate as well as tragic. And since it’s all the same Road, it would be inevitable people would be in front of and behind you, so why not put away the paranoia and walk together as the boy believes they should? The boy is rewarded for not giving into his father’s paranoia and cynicism by finding a perfect nuclear family (mother, father, brother, sister, and most ridiculous a family dog…I mean they are all starving, animals dead, environment collapsed but they are still feeding a fucking dog? Only excuse of this I could imagine is fattening up the dog for later, but I digress.). Is the boy’s finding his perfect family just as all hope seems lost, any less ridiculous than Eli being Zatoichi and having God lead him to food, shelter, and the last surviving I-Pod?
"The Book of Eli" has it’s own weak actors, like Mila Kunis who still manages to look fabulous even in the wasteland (and knows how to drive a car, use a grenade, and strangle a man with a piece of string, despite bieng raised sheltered and in a wasteland). It stretches our imaginations asking us to accept that after global devastation when “water” is the greatest commodity, the first thing survivors do is decide to burn all the Bibles. That means every hotel, library, and most American homes would have to be cleared and cleansed. Gideon must have been pissed. But in the end Eli’s faith is rewarded, by his God.
There has even been some question as to the second twist in Eli being that he is actually a Muslim, not a Christian. I’m still undecided as the validity of this. Yes he is a wearing a suspicious scarf at the beginning of the film, is dressed in a traditional Islamic white gown in Alcatraz, and the book is at the end of the film placed between the "Torah" and the "Qur'an", but I don’t know if this amounts to a smoking gun, or just some stylistic and cultural miscegenation. Like whether or not Deckard is a Replicant in “Blade Runner”, it is a meaningless question whether Eli is a secret Muslim. If he is, the Bible would still be a part of his religious traditions and values, just not it’s central element. If he is Muslim he has as much reason to defend the Book as if he were Christian (something that wouldn’t necessarily work the other way around), so far from showing a post-religious world view that does not “take sides”, it’s cements the status of the big three religions (Judeo, Christian, Islamic) as the only worthy faiths, since after all they are all worshiping the same God, just with different names. Likewise The Man’s name for this God is the boy, for amongst the liberal secular and humanist “family” is the sacred cow. Mathew:10:37 “"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
The reason’s I enjoyed the book of Eli, were that it’s action sequences by the Hughes Bros. were at least inventive and exciting (much like the most/only interesting moments of "From Hell" were the Ripper scenes), and though few and far between the film did have a sense of humor, something which died with the animals and trees, in “The Road”. Both films have their characters leaving the road (Eli calls it “the road” too) when they find houses that appear intact, clean, and full of supplies, only to discover both are the homes of cannibals. Once in the house, “The Road” evokes holocaust imagery of emaciated bodies in the basement, just as it evokes the imagery of “Save Africa” telethons with its naked and in the cold literally sniveling black man holding his balls later. Once in the house during “Book Of Eli” they find an elderly white couple who are kind, comical, ironic cannibals, who listen to Anita Ward’s ‘Ring My Bell” on an old phonograph, and happen to have a full arsenal in their couch. If my choice is between uber-serious suffering porno or blind leading the blind action adventures, I would rather gouge my eyes out and pick up a machete, than listen to some kid complain about whether he is “one of the good guys?” as he steps over dead bodies.
“The Book Of Eli” acknowledges its roots in pulpy traditions of the Western (its landscapes and locales) and sci-fi comic books with storyboard designs from Chris Weston (who illustrated Grant Morison’s “The Filth”, the best if not the only good and more importantly original super-hero comic of last decade). "The Road" adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy finds itself struggling in how to integrate the poetic language of the book into the ruined squalor of the film (which it actually does very well for the first half of the movie I must admit, before collapsing into repetition). Like Mcarthy’s last big screen adaptation “No Country For Old Men”, I found the story hollow and soulless. It may have been a “well written book” which from skimming some samples I won’t argue with, but there are some very good writers who do not know who to tell convincing stories, but because they are skilled manipulators of language they don’t have to. Likewise some very good story teller’s are not very good writers, full of dull prose and utilitarian words that mean nothing besides exactly what they mean. Perhaps "the Book Of Eli" is the later, if so it still beats out “The Road”, but does so only by inches not by miles.I only compare the two because often for over-determined reasons we take what we are told is serious and respond to it accordingly and what we are told is silly we trivialize and discount, and increasingly in the movies I’m seeing the gap between the two diminish. The same stories told different ways but arriving at the same conclusions, but each cleverly packaged to make its own target audience feel special. If you consider yourself a hip literary type (Oprah’s book club not withstanding) you will go see “The Road”, and if you consider yourself a philistine “fan boy” you will go see “The Book Of Eli”, and in both you are told to cling to your humanity and you will be rewarded “Even in the face of Armagedon” as the Watchmen’s Rorshach said before a Blue God substitute reduced him to a human stain.
The Hughes Brothers make no real attempt at being realistic, so they have nowhere to fall but up, where as John Hillcoat (whose “The Proposition” was amazing) goes to great pains to highlight how bloody serious it all is, only to descend to familiar dramatic “crowd pleasing” conventions. The difference is at least “Book Of Eli” owned up to it’s Dues Ex Machina and milked it for all the insanity it was worth, while “The Road” put up a cynical front of grit and gloom to cover up it’s secret guilty sentimentality. Post-Apacolyptic works are nothing new or unique to our era, the first one was Mary Shelly’s “The Last Man” published in 1826. Other works better than these two films are the truly spiritual without being sentimental novel “Parable Of The Sower” by Octavia E Butler, the flawed but cinematic tale of responsibility in “Blindness” or the deeply cynical and irreverent and “A Boy And His Dog”, the later of which Mad Max copied. If you gain nothing else from reading this it’s that if it comes right down to D-Day, don’t come crying to me for help. There be no shelter here. I will have the barbeque ready and “Ring My Bell” playing like it’s 1999 all over again. It’s always the end of the world somewhere