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May 2020

The Heat of Life

Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the strength and the conviction to complete the task you entrusted to me. Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path. And for keeping me resolute when all around seemed lost. Thank you for your protection and your many signs along the way. Thank you for any good that I may have done, I’m so sorry about the bad. Thank you for the friend I made. Please watch over her as you watched over me. Thank you for finally allowing me to rest. I’m so very tired, but I go now to my rest at peace. Knowing that I have done right with my time on this earth. I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith. – Eli in The Book of Eli

I recently had a chance to go back and revisit a relatively recent movie that I hadn’t seen in a while, The Book of Eli. Reading some of the reviews online, I noticed that a lot of people don’t know what to do with this movie. Secular critics lambast it from various angles, though dancing around its ultimately pro-Bible, pro-God message. Christians aren’t sure what to do with it either due to its violence and profanity. To me, this gives the movie a fascinating tension that cuts right down the middle, as sharp and unrelenting as the character of Eli slices through the profane, and maintains the importance of God’s guidance and Word. I will try and keep this as spoiler-free as I can.

We learn pretty early on that the solitary Eli is headed west, carrying what he believes is the last King James Bible, convinced he is being led by God. He crosses paths with depraved robbers, local power-grabbing tyrants, and the rare person who still seems to have anything resembling the “milk of human kindness.” It may not be as depressing as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but the film has a gravity and weight between action sequences that is palpable. I’m also hard pressed to think of a film with more scripture quoted than The Book of Eli. That element alone has made the film, and its cultural placement, unique and fascinating to see and hear. Suffice to say, The Book of Eli continues to be one of my favorite post-apocalyptic films. Although the obvious theme of the Bible’s importance is carried (literally) throughout the story, the film also has key points to make about man, religion, and God.

When the chips are down, these ‘civilized’ people will eat each other. You’ll see. I’ll show you. – The Joker in The Dark Knight

The Joker’s jeering claim about human nature in The Dark Knight proves true in The Book of Eli. As civil and insulated as we can be in western culture, it’s easy to make claims about humankind getting “better” when it may be we simply aren’t desperate or tested enough to expose our wicked hearts. Cannibalism, murder, and rape run rampant in this fictional future; there are no Good Samaritans.

…it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.” – Romans 3:10

We often think we know those around us, we often think we know ourselves, sitting in easy judgment of those we read about in preceding cultures or third world situations. The reality is, to use a plant analogy, the “heat” of life beating down on our heads exposes what kind of plant we are. Under stress we will either produce “fruit” or “thorns.” In other words, the heat of life brings people’s true nature to the surface. Eli’s world is fraught with human thorns, and the judgment on human nature is bleak, but our protagonist is carrying a seed that might change things.

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. – 2 Peter 3:16

Then we have our antagonist, Carnegie. Some men are worse than those killing and maiming others to sustain themselves, and Carnegie is exhibit “A”. He hungers for power, and he’ll twist and bend the truth to serve his purposes. Carnegie remembers the “power of the Word” from when he was a boy, but instead of looking to the good book as a source of hope, he remembers the authority it commanded and craves it, to keep his pawns in place and ascend a ladder of leadership in this devastated world. He does not care about God, but wants to be god. His comments and attitude, ultimately about how scripture can be abused, are worth the price of the movie alone.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33

Ray Stephenson plays Redbridge, who easily could have been a one-note toady. However, Redbridge is disgusted by the depravity of his compatriots, while also lusting for Solara…yet still bearing a sliver of conscience. Though not power-mad like Carnegie, he’s forsaken morals for comfort and position. You get the sense he feels as trapped as solar, longing for something better…but he has no faith. Or does he? In town, why does he let Eli go? We’re left to speculate his final thoughts in his last moments. Is his last act trying to aid Solara’s escape, making Carnegie see there’s no gain in coming back? Is a penitent posture happenstance, or reflective of Redbridge’s heart?

For we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Corinthians 5:7

But perhaps the most controversial part of the film is Eli’s insistence that there is more than a mere book that governs and guides for life and sustenance. He is convinced that he serves a real God who is active, and seeking followers and relationship. Although none of the other characters actually hear God’s voice, Eli remains unwavering in his belief, his mission, and his morals. As this unlikely hero continues to evade bullets and life-threatening situations, the film plays on this heroic stance with a new, mounting possibility for why this gifted, but still human, character cheats death again and again. What if it truly is the will of God? The providence on display in our hero’s journey certainly brings to light the 2 Corinthians passage above, and the revelation and culmination of events in the film certainly offers viewers something to keep them talking after the credits roll.

Go therefore and make disciples… – Matthew 28:19

Without spoiling the ending, I will say that it is my one disappointment. The ending was weaker in my opinion without a targeted mission of spreading the Word, as Eli shared the Word with Solara on their journey. It isn’t the high calling it could have been. But here, in the midst of post-apocalyptic devastation, the heart of the gospel still manages to rise up. Sacrifice ultimately wins even in a movie predicated by violence and death. A redemptive change agent demonstrates how dear the Word of God is to his heart. Once again, because of a silly movie, I find myself reminded that we are fallen beings in need of a savior: lost and sinful people in need of salvation. I find myself realizing that the gospel shines through in the darkest, most unlikely places.

Some additional questions for consideration and conversation:

  • Do we value God’s Word and respect it as fervently as Eli?
  • Where do we find ourselves in compromising life positions like Redbridge?

  • How do we temper time and focus on God’s Word with our obligation to love others?

  • In what ways might we lay our lives down for others like Jesus? Have we been blessed to inspire emulation another’s as Eli inspires Solara?

  • How do you feel about the ambiguous placement of the Bible at the end of the movie? How might this help or inhibit conversation?

Shelby out!


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