I saw 'The Book of Eli" on opening weekend, but really wanted to catch it a second time before I offered any sort of review. It is a great film and I was really surprised on many levels.
1. Brief Synopsis:
Eli (played by Denzel Washington) has spent 30+ years after an apocalyptic event in possession of a book that gave him a larger than life mission. While he alludes to a long journey, we can't assume that he has been on this the entire 30 years. He is one of the few people left that were alive before there was a "hole in the sky". The book is the last left of it's kind and plays almost a character role in the movie. Eli is trying to find a safe place, where the book can do good again. He meets a local chieftain/mayor figure "Carnagie" (played by Gary Oldman) that has been trying to find this specific type of book. He believes that the book will give him the words to have complete control and domination over people (and alludes that he gave people this sort of blind power in the past).
2. Key Themes of Loss
While this movie doesn't play into the loss of society as much as others, it does show the need for basic things. Water plays a very prominent form of commodity, and Eli will eat anything he can kill (cat and buzzard). Denzel does have a conversation in which he describes life before as a life of waste with people "throwing away what others kill for now". Many are also blinded by the sunlight, and everyone wears some sort of sunglasses.
At one point in the movie, Eli blesses his meal with another character who is amazed by the words and the idea of thankfulness. It is the imitation of this act that gets Eli in the trouble that serves as the main action for the film.
Overall, kindness seems to be the lacking piece of life that lets Eli stick out.
3. How does the human character fit in?
Compared to other post-apocalyptic films, The Book of Eli sticks out to me because it is about communal action. The movie is wrapped around the character of Eli-but the main tension exists within the realm of societal management.
There is a general distrust of those who are "wanderers" (like in many movies in the genre), and Eli is always observed as a weak person due to his age. The common method of identification is to observe peoples hands, to seek if they shake. Shaking is a symptom of eating to much human meat. What is interesting is that this is the marker of those who are "outside" of the boundaries society has placed around themselves. Debauchery isn't a problem, but the line is drawn at this point.
There is also a Utopian community that is met, and they are attempting to preserve and be able to retranslate the "best" of civilization. It too uses communal language and not individual.
4. How does the movie feed apocalyptic fervor?
I don't think it really does. It is about a journey and struggle, but it is set inside of the confines of a post-apocalyptic world. The movie does have many places of hopelessness and violence, but they don't play a primary role.
5. The Mad Max Scale
I give it a 9. It had armored cars, interesting appropriations of aging technology, value in ingenuity and self preservation. Like Max, Eli had a few tricks up his sleeve and was good at adapting. I saw someone wearing football pads in one scene and there was a convoy. So far The Book of Eli has scratched that itch better than anything but the Road Warrior.