Vn and I recently watched the film The Book of Eli, and she, not knowing much about the Bible or Christianity, asked me if there was some connection between the biblical Eli and the story in the film. I rattled off what came to mind about Eli, but couldn’t really think of anything that related to the movie. The only connection I could think of was that, just as the biblical Eli knew what his wicked sons were up to but failed to do much of anything to stop them, the Eli in the movie refused to intervene in most of the rapes and murders he witnessed. (“Stay on the path. It’s not your concern.”)
Later, thinking there must be some other connection I was missing, I got a Bible and started skimming 1 Samuel. What I found matches the themes of the film so closely that it is surely what the screenwriter had in mind when he chose that particular moniker for his hero:
And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; . . . (1 Sam. 3:1-2)
Obviously appropriate for a movie about a blind man carefully guarding what is supposedly the only surviving King James Bible in the world. (I say “supposedly” because, though Eli says his Bible is a King James, when he begins dictating the Book of Genesis it’s not quite the same. He says “was hovering” instead of “moved” in describing the Spirit over the waters, for example. Having once myself tried Eli’s project of memorizing the whole Bible, I noticed the discrepancy immediately.)
As for the movie itself, it was a bit of a wash, despite the considerably talent of Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. The whole post-apocalyptic thing has been done to death and doesn’t make any more sense this time around. (Shoes and drinking water are hard to come by, but sunglasses and high-tech weaponry — including the occasional conveniently book-shaped time bomb — apparently grow on trees.) And although the central theme has a lot of potential, the movie doesn’t really deal with it very well. We never really get a sense of what Carnegie would be able to do if he had a Bible which he isn’t already able to do anyway.