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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Book of Eli

By
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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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Ultimately there is no friend who can fully understand us, who can walk with us all the way. We must go forward and walk on our own in response to who we are and who we are called to be in God. —Thomas Merton

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