(The following thoughts will inevitably spoil aspects of the film they analyze. It is assumed that NonModern readers interested in the film will have seen it, and that many NonModern readers are not likely to see it in any case. It is listed as a “not a recommendation,” as always due to the content some will find offensive, not as a qualitative judgment.)
The Hughes Brothers’ first film since their 2001 film, From Hell, is a curious picture. It is skillfully made, visually interesting (as you would expect from them) and has some deep and thought provoking themes. While it is a bit uneven, and not the sort of story that will be a sentimental favorite, the themes and the way they are visually presented—the little clues and hints laid here and there along the storyline—are enough to make this a fun film for repeated viewings.
One of the things that make this film fun—much in the vein of the Sixth Sense—are the little touches that make the twist ending obvious in retrospect but that were almost completely missed in the first viewing. You do feel yourself questioning things along the way (when he searches the car in the opening scenes, when he is reading the Book at twilight for the first time, when he is fiddling with his powerless mp3 player the next morning, the way he hears and smells things so well along the way, etc.) but you don’t make the connection.
Of course the big reason this film is compelling to people like NonModern, is the deeply spiritual ideas with which the story plays. It is not often we get a film from Hollywood that is so friendly to people of faith. However, it does not just content itself with creating a Christian super-hero. It explores the good and the bad implications of faith and religion in the world.
The first explicit case of Eli demonstrating his faith is when he prays with Solara. That simple act of acknowledging God is powerful, as evidenced the next morning when she prays with her mother. It is here where we also begin to see the motivations of the bad man: Carnegie. He seeks religion to strengthen his power over people. He wants to manipulate people as many a cult leader or televangelist has in the past.
His conversation with Eli about the Bible message being spread, and Eli’s response are an important moment in the story. Carnegie seeks to use religion, but for Eli the Bible is something more. It is a message to be read and lived by. He follows its message by faith and does not seek to control others.
As Eli walks out of town, we are given further evidence of the truth behind Eli’s beliefs. He is obviously following divine guidance. Every shot that comes his way misses. As each shot is taken, Eli responds with super human skill and kills every man that tries to kill him. He does not shoot anyone unless they shoot at him first. When the twist ending is revealed, this feat is all the more impressive. Later on, when Eli and Solara talk about his thirty year journey, he explains to her that he has been walking by faith.
Late in the film, Eli goes from carrying the Bible to being the Bible that Solara carries when he gives the book up to spare her. When asked why he sacrificed the book to save her, he talks about what the Bible has taught him. His explanation of the Christian walk is a lot better than that of a lot of Christians today. It is not about condemning sinners for being sinners. It is not about preaching change. It is about treating other people as more important than self. Too many Christians have forgotten that the change faith brings is a change that should be lived. Instead, they forget to live the change and instead focus on trying to get everyone else to change. It is living the change out that makes that message powerful and gives us the right to share it.
In the end, it is not the book, but the message that the book communicates that had all the value. That is also true of the Bible in reality.
Meeting my neighbors in NPR’s Borderland
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