Friday, February 3, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Book of Eli (2010)

Here is a great example of the post-apocalyptic genre in film. I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of post-apocalyptic media that aren't good, but this movie altogether is very well done in almost all the ways it could be. It's a very well put together movie from beginning to end, showing that Mad Max-esque movies still have a place within our society and culture. It's still meaningful. Hell, it may have even more meaning than ever before. The end of civilization will always be meaningful. Most people have probably thought about it, probably considered what they would do if the world ended tomorrow. This is the kind of movie that shows what could happen after the end. I mean, with it now being 2012, when is a better time to enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre? I've been hearing since I was too little to understand that the Mayan calendar called for the end of an age this year. That always was pretty cool for me. Maybe it won't be the end of the world, but it's certainly something, wouldn't you say? So, yes, I do enjoy this genre when it is done well, and this movie is certainly a well put together film.

Now, the post-apocalyptic genre is very interesting. I'm a big fan of some of the stories involved. I basically hate all the "this is how the world ends" disaster films (ie 2012, Independence Day... etc.), but I love "after the end" films. This movie takes a lot from earlier movies and media of the genre, but also tends to hold its own in regards to story, characters, and filmography. Obvious parallels can be drawn here, again, with Mad Max, especially with many of the costumes, the cars, trucks, and motorcycles used throughout the movie. There are a few shout-outs and obvious influences from A Boy and His Dog, which is probably one of my favorites of the post-apocalyptic genre. This film shows a lot of similarities between the Fallout series of games. I mean, this could easily be Fallout: The Movie, because of how closely related this movie seems to be to the Fallout series. And I love the Fallout games, so it makes me like this movie even more.

V for Vendetta is another movie I thought about after I saw this film. The plot might not be exactly like it, and the setting is certainly all different, but the older male character taking the younger female character under his "wing" is a pretty obvious parallel. Both V and Eli have very obvious followings and neither really get to see where their labors will end up, while the younger women get to see what the future will bring, and possibly even get to lead the future in their own ways. Look, I saw parallels, all right? In general the movies feel very similar even if they aren't all that similar in general.

Blindness is a pretty huge theme in the movie, not just the blindness of the eyes, but blindness in many other ways. Blind faith, blind conviction, blind rage, blind paths, blind trust... the list can go on and on. I loved how far the film seemed to delve into the subject of blindness. Kind of obviously, sight blindness comes in a lot in the movie. At least one of the major characters in the film is blind, but the concrete blindness seems to parallel the blind faith of Eli (Denzel Washington), the blind and rage-inducing conviction of Gary Oldman's Carnegie, and the blind trust in Eli of Solara (Mila Kunis).

The script and the direction of the film was literally fantastic. I mean, no, the script was not anything incredibly special, but for a movie of this type it was poignant, meaningful, maybe even life-changing. I'm not a person who would call myself God's faithful, but even I had to pause after this film and wonder a little bit about what faith, even blind faith, would mean to me. It was like opening an old and creaky door, and, in general, it gave me a feeling of peace. And that's what this movie evokes: peace even in the end of the world, even while there are action scenes, death, misery, and all other things. There's an overall feeling of "this could be peaceful" and "it doesn't have to be this way if we don't want it to be." I like that. I like that a lot actually.

The contrasts in the filmography as directed by the Hughes brothers is stunning to watch. I love how the colors of the world seem to work. The high contrasts between the characters and the backgrounds, or certain features in the landscape really worked for me. Taking yourself away from all of that, you might just say, oh that's a mighty shiny sky, but it works for the style of this film. It makes it almost fantastic... almost religious in a weird sort of way, as if Eli is constantly followed by the light of God.

This brings me right into religious symbolism. I'm not going to go deeply into this, but I think it needs to be explored a little. This is a religious film, there's no going around that. Is it religious in a good way? In a bad way? Well, that's a much more complex answer. I think it was trying to show that religion can be good or bad. The way Carnegie wanted to show religion was quite obviously a bad way of using religion, but the way Eli seemed to explore religion seemed equally unhealthy throughout the film even if it was not as harmful. Eli kept the book and himself safe, even at the expense of others. How is that taking religion into account? He even says so himself towards the end of the film. One of the most striking scenes of this in the film is towards the beginning when a gang of post-apocalyptic bikers come and kill a man and rape the woman traveling with the man to death. And Eli knows what's going on. He realizes what will happen, and he justifies it to himself that it isn't his problem. He's right there, close enough to help, but he doesn't. The morality has shifted. It's not about helping others; it's about keeping oneself safe. It something that Eli, even as the good guy of the film, has forgotten. He doesn't think about others, not really, only himself, and that is a failure of society. He reads without doing, but that is his failure as a man. He develops throughout the course of the film, every bit as much as Solara does. It may not be as obvious. It may even be quite subtle, but he sees his own failings as a person. He sees where he screwed up, and in the end he tries to save Solara and it ends up eventually costing him his life. It is quite the road to redemption that he walked, but he did it because of the calling he had, because of what he felt was important. It's an incredibly complex moral issue, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch.

The movie has some great moments in it. I won't spoil them. I think the movie is good enough not to spoil, not to go around and say, man this is how it ended, isn't that neat? No, I'm going to encourage people to see the movie, but I can say that the movie is very well done. Certain scenes are incredibly memorable and the characters, like the characters from many other films, will remain with you. Is this the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time? No. Story of all time? No. Is it derivative? Certainly. But what it does, what it accomplishes is a new way of storytelling. It complicates factors, not just showing a good side and a bad side. There is not a single character in the movie that can be considered wholly evil. Everybody is simply trying to survive, get what they want or feel they need. Carnegie is obvious a big jerk, but he is a jerk who is trying to rally a community, maybe even a city, together. There is law and order under him, no mindless killing in his town, but is that better or worse? Yes, there is prostitution, and no, he doesn't seem to treat everybody well, but it seems as if most people are happier than they would be in the wasteland where cannibalism is king. Again, the morality of this movie is well done, and I think the characters are all very complex creatures.

Talking about characters has to lead me into talking about acting. I think the acting here is very good. Gary Oldman is obviously Gary Oldman. He's hamming it up like he almost always does. He's reminiscent of the Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element or in Léon: The Professional. It's kind of a pleasure watching him act even if he really is quite a hammy guy. Denzel Washington is the heart and soul of this movie. His acting carries so much weight here, and he's obvious, by far obviously, the man of the movie. He does such a great job in bringing the character of Eli to life, through little things: ticks, compulsions, desires, needs... Eli doesn't feel like a character, he feels like a man, and that is always fantastic. Mila Kunis also does such a good job in this film, even though she is very obviously overshadowed by the other two men. I liked her for the most part, and if we compare her character to Natalie Portman's in V for Vendetta, I have to admit that I prefer the job Mila Kunis does here, just like I preferred her in the crappy film, The Black Swan. Another actress I should mention is Jennifer Beals, who really shines as Solara's mother, Claudia, who also happens to be Carnegie's lover. She plays the part with a lot of dignity and grace, and, in general, fits well with the movie. I do feel that her character was the one that caused me to guess the ending of the movie though. I mean, it was pretty obvious what was going to happen after she turned up.

So, despite all of my praises, there are some negatives. The filmography is mostly very good, but the boat scene towards the end (you'll know which one I mean if you've seen the movie) is incredibly awkward to watch. The green screen is incredibly apparent and just took me right out of the movie as if I had never been in it. Honestly, the whole ending of the movie was a bit forced and overdone. Some parts of it I liked, but I simply thought it went on too long. I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending without some much time wasted on spooling around. But that could be my personal taste... even if I'm right. I also thought that the pacing could be incredibly strange at times. I mean, it worked really well early on, but once Eli gets to the town, the pacing gets weird. I wish that Eli would have been the only character that was followed around until Solara gets captured near the end of the film. That would have given it a much better pacing. It was jarring to be introduced so suddenly to characters that I didn't know after spending a good portion of the beginning of the movie with only Eli as our companion on the journey. Also, the character of Claudia really didn't have that much to do, so she did seem shoehorned into a few scenes, the shampoo scene (especially with how Carnegie treats her afterward) is an especially confusing one... as well as her bringing Eli food and water... although I guess that makes more sense if she has a good sense for people... or something? Again, I thought Jennifer Beals did a great job here, but the script itself seemed strange. Again, none of these negatives are going to push me into saying this is a bad movie by any stretch, but it does have some issues that keep it from being perfect and I feel as if I do have to mention them.

This movie is generally very good. If you like the post-apocalyptic genre, check this movie out, you won't be disappointed.

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