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Holy Terror in The Book of Eli
Not a critical failure, but a failure of critics.

by Everett Wilson
June 29, 2011

 On the recommendation of James Leroy Wilson, I finally watched  The Book of Eli.  When it was released  last winter I expressed the desire not to see it because the reviews I had read focused on the violence in it, comparing it with  the "spaghetti westerns" of Clint Eastwood's early career,  with a religious twist tossed in—as if The DaVinci Code     were  written by Louis L'Amour, perhaps.    

As the film unfolded, however, I realized that the critics  I'd read either hadn't understood it  or had decided before seeing it that it was not   to be taken seriously.  Indiana  Jones would have understood it, though.   As he said to the  g-men  who came to consult him,   "Didn't you guys   go to Sunday School?"

I'll pick up his cue and  ask the critics,  "Didn't  you guys ever read  a classic   written before the Enlghtenment?  Macbeth,  maybe, or Clarissa Harlowe,  or a slug of others  in which one or more of the characters is driven, even  consumed,  by a Holy Terror   treated by   both the author and the character  as not only true, but truly dreadful?  In those days a biblical worldview was   ingrained  in the Christian West.  Some lived with a hope of heaven in their hearts, but the fear of hell still loomed in the darkness even for them.  . 

The first audiences watching Macbeth,  for instance,  would have seen it as a tragedy about mortal sin and  eternal damnation.       They would  hear Macduff speaking  the literal truth when he called Macbeth a hellhound, and  would experience holy terror as they watched Lady Macbeth try to wash blood from her hands that only she could see.   

 That is the audience you must join the best you can, if you are going to   appreciate  The Book of Eli.  Compare it to no modern book, not even The Lord of the Rings or The Chestnut King, for those largely take place in other worlds.   The Book of Eli takes place in an imaginary future of the world we live in, but Eli cannot be compared to a modern hero, real or imagined.  

Nor is he the hero of  a god-story, like a Greek myth.   

Rather, Eli  is to be compared to  an  Old Testament hero--like Gideon, David, Jonathan, and the sons of Zeruiah, Joab and Abishai-- men who could do extraordinary things only when and because they were   empowered and used by God.  . They were men of war, but only in the service of God. 

Eli makes war only on those who make war against him to prevent him from fulfilling the mission God has given him.  Christians who have a problem with that must toss out the Old Testament, because that is mostly what the Old Testament is about!   In the days of the Patriarchs, the Judges, the Kings,  and the Prophets, God  himself was at  war with those who lifted their hand against him and his Anointed.  All who persist in making war on God   lose.  Period.    

The Book of Eli is fiction, but the only way to understand it is  on  biblical terms, as in  in the preceding paragraph.   Nobody has to see the movie, of course, but those  who do have  a better chance of getting it if they read a piece like this one  instead of the reviews that almost kept me from seeing it.  

About the Author:

Everett Wilson has been watching movies and reading books for nearly seventy years.  He has been a theologian for fifty.  

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