A post apocalyptic tale about a man on a mission from God. A nuclear war has occurred in the past, believed to be because of religion, and most people were killed when a hole was burned in the sky and the sun burned everything. Most books have been burned, and many are now cannibals and lawlessness reigns. However, God spoke to Eli and guided him to where the last Bible was and told him to carry it out West, where the book will be safe and a help for others. So Eli travels across country, killing marauders who try to rob him and kill him. He’s a crack shot and an expert swordsman, so this is an action movie with a spiritual theme.
When Eli arrives at the town owned by bad guy Carnegie, who is one of the few people who reads and is therefore the kingly ruler of the city. Knowledge is power. But so is religion. Carnegie has his minions of evil biker dudes drive all around trying to find a Bible because he believes “it is a weapon, aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. They’ll do exactly what I tell them if I tell them the words are from the book.” And we see Carnegie reading through a book on Mussolini, which indicates Carnegie as the fascist mentality that believes religion is a force to use to control people. But Eli and the people to whom he seeks believe it is a book of freedom that brings civilized meaning to existence. So two different views of the sacred text illustrate how people can use it for good or evil depending on their religious beliefs.
Solara, the love interest, is sent in to Eli by Carnegie in order to persuade Eli to join his gang and give him the Bible. Eli refuses to fornicate with her and even teaches her how to pray – something that is alien to her because the knowledge of God has been lost in this depraved uncivilized post-apocalyptic world. When Carnegie seeks to take the book from Eli, Eli is miraculously unharmed as the minions shoot at him walking away. Eli then turns and takes them all out with his pistol. You see, the voice had told him he would be protected and would accomplish this mission from God, and Eli has faith, because as he explains to chick sidekick, Solara, “I walk by faith, not by sight.” If Eli has the time before killing some bad guys, he’ll quote the Bible like, “Cursed is the ground for our sake, both thorns and thistles it shall yield. For from the dust we were taken and to the dust we shall return.” He also quotes Psalm 23, the Lord is My Shepherd to Solara when she asks him to read some to her. She says, “that’s beautiful, did you write it?” illustrating how illiterate the culture has become.
So this movie is unusually Christian in its theme. That is, it tells a story of God keeping the Bible as his word alive by miraculously protecting one man to bring it to the hands of those who will print it and distribute it to mankind — along with other classics of civilization.
But when the Bible gets captured by the bad guy and all seems lost with Eli sure to die from a bullet wound, God still manages to keep Eli alive to finish his journey to the community that happens to be holed up on Alcatraz. At this point Eli acknowledges to Solara that “I was so caught up with keeping the book safe that I forgot to live my life according to it. To do more for others than I do for myself.” Though this is an inaccurate quote of the golden rule, it still points up the fact that this is an analogy for the claim that faithful Christians too often spend their energy and passion in defending or fighting for “the book” instead of focusing on living out the love of others that Jesus has told them to engage in.
In the end, Eli gets the Bible to the small community anyway and they end up getting the King James version of the Bible to print and publish for the world. This is essentially the Christian doctrine of Inspiration, that God used human beings to communicate his message and bring it to the human race despite the evil in the world and the frailty of human beings. This belief is not one of divine dictation, but of human incarnation.
BUT…, and that’s a big BUT… a couple shots at the end seemed to be an intentional multicultural nod to Islam that seemed to work against the Christian exclusivism of the Bible: When Eli is transferring the text of the Bible to the good guys, he shaves all his hair off and dresses in what appears to be a Muslim garb. And then, the Bible that is printed is placed on a bookshelf right between a Tanakh and a Quran with other religious books, as if to say the Bible is one among other religious documents needed for civilization, including the Quran. A journalist in Slate online notes, “Al-Bukhari, a ninth-century Muslim scholar who spent years collecting hadith, quotes the prophet as saying “May Allah bless those who shaved” during the Hajj (pilgrimage); and the Quran states that “ye shall enter the Sacred Mosque, if Allah wills, with minds secure, heads shaved, hair cut short, and without fear.” This is why Islamic suicide terrorists shave their body hair before engaging in their terrorism because they believe they are doing a holy deed and will end up in Paradise. So as Eli lay dying, he has shaved Islam-style in holy preparation for death as well as holy presentation of God’s Word. Of course, this is all an ironic contradiction since Muslims do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, they believe it is the corrupted word of men.