“The Book of Eli” tells a beautiful story set in an unspeakable time, thirty years after a nuclear holocaust has wiped out the United States. Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis deliver simply amazing performances, and the film itself has the perfect combination of allegory, humor, and realistic action scenes, the latter being a true rarity in Hollywood. Perhaps most importantly, this film poses important questions that mankind has struggled with since the dawn of civilization.
These questions can be discussed without revealing much of the plot, this is simply a movie that must been seen and discussed. The first question posed to the audience is why our creation myths exist at all, in other words, why did we invent god? The answer can be found in a quote by boxing promoter Don King, who once said, “If you didn’t know me, you’d have to invent me.” The very same can be said about god. Without religion, humans have no purpose, there is no meaning attached to life. The result is chaos coupled with cruel social Darwinism. God is a necessity to maintain order in society.
The next questions are even more difficult for the audience of grapple with, perhaps because there is no clear answer. Do the obvious benefits of having religion outweigh the negative? Beyond maintaining order, there are an incalculable number of benefits to humans having faith in a god. Love and belief of god has spawned charity, unity, and often serve as the last barrier between complete desperation and a loss of the will to live. There is no question that religious belief has improved and saved the lives of billions of people.
This movie is fearless in addressing some of the negative aspects of the creation of the god myth. The film makes several inferences that the nuclear calamity was related to belief in god, a possible presumption here is a war between Christianity and Islam. There is no more perfect example of the danger of religion in today’s society than Islamic radicals murdering in the name of their god and prophet, whose picture could not be shown in this review because the author would be killed. The problems caused by religion are even broader than this. The smugness of evangelical Christians’ denial of all science and condemnation of groups who choose not to ascribe to their belief system, Catholicism entering the world of politics by denying their sacraments to elected officials in a naked effort to shape public policy, and the sheer fact that a group of people on this planet consider themselves “chosen.” The absurdity of all this can only be seen by those who choose to stand outside it.
Ultimately, this great film settles the question of whether the goodness spawned by religion outweighs the negativity. In the end, all we can demand of ourselves is to do more for other people than we do for ourselves. The twisted beliefs of the murderers, self-righteous, political meddlers, and the arrogant will ultimately end up meaning nothing and will simply become debris. But the small, helpful deeds that we can do for other people, those never die.
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