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The Book of Eli

John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

More contemplative and lyrical than advertised, the first big action movie of 2010 incorporates religious faith and Judeo-Christian principles to a surprising degree.

Directed by twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, "The Book of Eli" (Warner Bros.) prompts the question whether, assuming a minimum level of respect, the attempt to integrate religion and Scripture into a mass-appeal film is by itself laudable.

"The Book of Eli" exhibits sufficient reverence for the Bible, and yet its coarse language and violence—though not excessive when compared to many films of this ilk—could fuel the opinion that Hollywood should avoid all sacred texts. It does not endorse aggression as a means to redemption, however.

While dabbing them with morbid humor, the Hughes brothers don't prolong the fight sequences, nor are the proceedings saturated in blood. The mayhem is balanced by frequent meditative passages. Moreover, next to the bleak depictions of humankind's future that abound at the multiplex (last year's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" springs to mind) their vision is decidedly optimistic. Centering on a prophetic hero driven by faith and hope, "The Book of Eli" has more in common with the 2007 Will Smith vehicle "I Am Legend."

The character of Eli, portrayed by the always-convincing Denzel Washington, descends from the strong, mysterious strangers Clint Eastwood played in the so-called spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, as well as from the spiritually potent protagonists in numerous Asian martial-arts films. In the near future, following a climactic disaster that precipitated "the last war," Eli has spent 30 years traversing the blighted landscape of the western United States carrying the only extant copy of The King James Bible.

Books were burned and libraries pillaged in the aftermath of the vaguely described apocalypse. Now, with survival a Herculean challenge, he skillfully defends himself and his precious cargo using a machete, bow-and-arrow, and gun. His belief that he's shielded by God appears to be well-founded after he arrives at a dusty town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), whose marauding minions are charged with bringing him every book they can find.

Carnegie's power derives from controlling the water supply, but he's convinced his dominion over the surviving population will grow if he wields the words of the Bible. His blind, common-law wife, Claudia (Jennifer Beals), has a daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), who eventually hits the road with Eli, becoming a disciple of sorts.

How authentically Christian is Eli's religiosity? Not only does he safeguard and transport the Bible, he reads it daily and quotes from it often. He also prays—most notably at the end of the film, when he gives thanks to God and confesses the sins he committed as the Good Book's chosen courier. The most explicit expression of Christian doctrine comes when Eli tells Solara what he's learned from his in-depth study of Scripture, namely, "Do more for others than you do for yourself."

The film contains intermittent strong violence including gun- and swordplay and a killing intended to be merciful, much rough language, some crude language, and brief sexual innuendo. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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John of Monte Corvino: At a time when the Church was heavily embroiled in nationalistic rivalries within Europe, it was also reaching across Asia to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Mongols. John of Monte Corvino went to China about the same time Marco Polo was returning. 
<p>John was a soldier, judge and doctor before he became a friar. Prior to going to Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran), in 1278, he was well known for his preaching and teaching. In 1291 he left Tabriz as a legate of Pope Nicholas IV to the court of Kublai Khan. An Italian merchant, a Dominican friar and John traveled to western India where the Dominican died. When John and the Italian merchant arrived in China in 1294, Kublai Khan had recently died. </p><p>Nestorian Christians, successors to the dissidents of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus’ teaching on Jesus Christ, had been in China since the seventh century. John converted some of them and also some of the Chinese, including Prince George from Tenduk, northwest of Beijing. Prince George named his son after this holy friar. </p><p>John established his headquarters in Khanbalik (now Beijing), where he built two churches; his was the first resident Catholic mission in the country. By 1304 he had translated the Psalms and the New Testament into the Tatar language. </p><p>Responding to two letters from John, Pope Clement V named John Archbishop of Khanbalik in 1307 and consecrated seven friars as bishops of neighboring dioceses. One of the seven never left Europe. Three others died along the way to China; the remaining three bishops and the friars who accompanied them arrived there in 1308. </p><p>When John died in 1328, he was mourned by Christians and non-Christians. His tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage. In 1368, Christianity was banished from China when the Mongols were expelled and the Ming dynasty began. John’s cause has been introduced in Rome.</p> American Catholic Blog We look ahead to the coming of the Son of Man, standing erect and with heads held high. We live in hope, not in fear. Our experience of God is no longer limited by human weakness or even human sinfulness. God has always been one step ahead of us, with a plan that exceeds our greatest desires.

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