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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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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.

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