Eli is a great name for a hero who is carrying a copy of the Bible West in a post-apocalyptic version of an USA, as Denzel Washington does on “The Book of Eli.” It’s a great name, because it revokes past Eli’s such as the one at the end of 2 Chronicles 20:
“35 Afterward, King Jehoshaphat of Judah entered into a partnership with King Ahaziah of Israel, thereby acting wickedly. 36 He joined with him in constructing ships to go to Tarshish; the ships were constructed in Ezion-geber. 37 Eliezer son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, “As you have made a partnership with Ahaziah, the Lord will break up your work.” The ships were wrecked and were unable to go to Tarshish.” (JPS version)
That Eli was the kind of prophet who had a message he had to share. The Eli in the film was the kind of prophet who had a divine calling and followed it through no matter what the cost. This included plenty of human life as the film is essentially an action film, where he has to use power, skill and thinking in order to move forward an accomplish his goal. Eli’s determination is either remarkable or crazy, depending on your attitude towards divine inspiration in modern times. Finally “Eli” is also short hand for OMG in Biblical times. That is certainly appropriate for a brutal wasteland, where human life worth less than a piece of food or a gulp water.
When prompted Eli summarizes the Bible’s message as “do for others more than you do for yourself.” It is of course a paraphrase the Golden Rule that can be found in many religions. For example in Christianity “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) and Judaism “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary – [and now] go study.” (Talmud: Shabbat 31a.) Jesus’ version is a positive commandment, while Hillel’s is a negative (what to avoid) summary. The wording in the film’s version is positive, so the connection to the Christian version is more clear cut, most of the audience will recognize Jesus’ words distorted here. Or not distorted, but enhanced with the word “more” if you wish. This change reflects a more egoistic morals of our times, where you have to do things for yourself and it’s OK as long as you do something for others too. The message is clear: being self-centered is required in desolate world, but it has to tempered by compassion and action for others. Our Eli cared for the good book a lot, but eventually recognized that the message it and he was carrying has to influence his actions in more subtle ways than just follow the “Go West” command.
I already told too much of the story’s context; telling more would ruin the experience. But I have to say be prepared for violence, religion and a surprise ending. I liked the mix of these elements, so I ended up appreciating the film. I didn’t need the concluding scene that opens up the possibility of an unnecessary sequel. I hope that won’t happen as it weakens the film’s message of hope placed in faith.
IMDB’s summary: A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.