The Book of Eli

Author: Gary Whitta and Anthony Peckham
Genre: Sci-Fi/Western/Action
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 9
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 9

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Logline:

In a grim, post-Apocalyptic world, a corrupt slave-driver fights to obtain a true source of power — the Bible.

Synopsis:

In a decaying hellscape, ELI stalks a mutant cat. Wearing filthy clothes but carrying a shotgun, a samurai sword, and a packed rucksack (and a St. Christopher pendant), he traps the cat and kills it. He walks along the road past burned-out cars and debris. A YOUNG WOMAN struggles to get a shopping cart out of a ditch. Eli attempts to help her when a group of HIJACKERS pounce. Eli manages to kill them all with minimal effort and no injury. The Young Woman asks to go with Eli. He says no and keeps walking.

Eli comes upon a bombed-out, abandoned town. He spends the night in one of the houses, skinning and eating his cat. He uses a car battery to power an old iPod, listening to Mozart as he reads from an unknown book with a big brass lock. He feeds a little mouse a few particles of cat meat.

The next day, Eli journeys to the ruins of Sacramento, but the freeway overpass has collapsed. Below, he watches a group of bikers terrorize and kill a middle-aged couple. Forced to take that path, he walks along until he hits a junction with basic, pictogram signs. Eli turns on his iPod again, but his battery is dead. Eli follows the signs to a town in the valley. Built of the ruins of another bombed-out town, it’s like a demented version of Anytown, U.S.A. He seeks out an ENGINEER, a crazy man who pulls a gun on him within seconds of meeting. Eli’s cool and tough, trades a functioning Zippo lighter for a recharge on his battery. He asks the Engineer if the town has water; the Engineer points him to the Orpheum, a movie theatre that has now become a bar. In the Orpheum, the leader of the murderous bikers, MARTZ, pushes past REDRIDGE, second-in-command of town founder/leader HAWTHORNE. He gives Hawthorne a half-dozen books and magazines from various periods in history. Hawthorne’s enraged — none of these are what he wants. In exchange for the books, he gives the bikers free drinks and women for the night, but they have to go back out tomorrow and keep looking for the book he wants. He uses an old Newsweek that refers to an impending nuclear war between the U.S. and a Chinese/Islamo-fascist alliance as kindling.

Eli goes to the Orpheum and trades the bartender a few cat pelts for water. A cat, the bar mascot, hops on the bar. Eli shoos him away, which catches the attention of Martz. The bartender calls for SOLARA, a surprisingly cheerful 16-year-old waitress, to fetch some water for Eli’s canteen. Outside, Solara moves past a series of armed guards keeping watch over their farmers, animal herders, and gas tanker. Redridge sexually harasses her, but she shoves him away. He mutters that Hawthorne won’t protect her forever. Back in the bar, Martz approaches Eli to grumble about pushing his cat off the bar. Eli denies it, but Martz and the bikers get in Eli’s face. Eli kills them all but Martz. Upstairs, Hawthorne has sex with a blind woman named CLAUDIA. He hears the ruckus and goes downstairs just in time to see Solara chastise Eli and Martz for killing each other when it’s so hard to survive. Eli lets his guard down, but Martz still runs after him, impaling himself on Eli’s sword. Hawthorne demands to speak with Eli.

Hawthorne tells Eli it’s been a long time since he’s met someone “like him.” He laments the lack of literate, educated people and tells Eli he’s trying to protect his townspeople, who are clearly his slaves. He wants to hire Eli to help him. Eli refuses, saying he’s heading west. Hawthorne insists there’s nothing west of Sacramento, but Eli doesn’t care. Hawthorne decides not to give Eli a choice, threatening death if he doesn’t at least stay the night to consider helping. He gives Eli a room and sends Claudia to give him water for washing and food. Then he sends Solara in to sex him up, but Eli turns her down. Solara says Hawthorne will beat her mother if she doesn’t spend the night, so Eli allows her to sleep on the floor. Solara notices his book and demands to read it. Eli adamantly refuses, losing his cool for the first time. For the first time, we see the book is a Holy Bible. He offers to share food with her, teaches her to say grace.

The next morning, Solara talks over the night with Hawthorne and Claudia. She made no headway. Claudia offers her food, and Solara sits down and says grace, stunning Hawthorne. He asks where she learned this, and she tells him she thinks Eli got it from his book. Hawthorne asks what book. Solara mentions a symbol on it, makes the cross symbol with her fingers. Hawthorne demands to see this book, but Eli’s gone. He snuck out the window and took out the man guarding it. He’s at the engineer’s shop for his battery.

Hawthorne confronts Eli in the middle of Main Street. The entire town watches as they get into a gunfight. Eli kills everyone but Redridge and Hawthorne, but he knocks Hawthorne unconscious and takes his prized gun before heading out of town. Solara follows him, demanding to go with. Eli refuses until she mentions she knows where they keep the water. She leads him to an underground spring, heavily guarded. Eli takes out the guards, loads up with water, then locks Solara inside the spring so she can’t follow. Eli starts walking, and eventually Solara busts out of the door leading into the spring cave. She heads down a road into the middle of nowhere, where she finds a woman pulling the same scam Eli fell for earlier. Solara’s surrounded by hijackers, who chase her into the wreckage of an old 747. Eli comes back for her, kills all the hijackers. They head west together.

Hawthorne regains consciousness to find everyone in town staring at him. The tide has shifted — after what they’ve witnessed, the slaves feel less fear. Hawthorne and Redridge gas up some cars fortified with cheap old armor. Redridge grumbles about wasting resources for a book, and Hawthorne rails on him, saying it’s more than a book — it’s a weapon and a source of power. Redridge says if he helps, he wants Solara. Hawthorne agrees, and they head west. In the evening, Eli shows Solara how to hunt squirrels. They find shelter to use as a camp. Solara asks about his pendant. Eli explains that St. Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, and Solara asks what a saint is. Eli tries to explain, and Solara believes Eli is a saint. Eli says he’s killed too much to be a saint. Eli reads his Bible; Solara asks him to read some for her, but he won’t.

She asks what he meant the night before, when he said it was the last one. Eli explains that after the war, people blamed religion for everything that happened and burned all the Bibles that weren’t destroyed in the chaos. He says after the war, when everyone was hiding underground, he heard a voice telling him to go above and walk. It led him to a Bible and told him it was the last one. Solara thinks he’s crazy, but Eli doesn’t think so. Later, when he’s asleep, Solara tries to sneak a peek at his Bible. Instead, she finds a plastic badge identifying Eli as a former Wal-Mart employee. Her rummaging wakes Eli, who gets angry and reminds her she doesn’t even know how to read. Solara asks him to teach her. He goes back to sleep.

Near dawn, Hawthorne and Redridge find Eli and Solara’s tracks. They attack them, but they’re prepared. Eli booby-traps his car battery, wich is tied to a grenade that explodes and kills several men and collapses the parking garage they slept in. They start walking until they find a strange garden in the middle of the wasteland. Beyond the garden is a house, where Eli and Solara find an elderly couple; RAY, the husband, aims a shotgun at them, while his wife, LAUREN, offers them tea. They go into the surreal home, which resembles the “old” way of life as much as anything could. Eli and Solara notices a huge graveyard behind the house. It occurs to Eli that these people are cannibals, so they leave quickly — and see Hawthorne’s men heading toward them. Eli and Solara run back into the house, and before Ray can protest about the men heading toward them, they’re there. Ray shows Eli a huge chest full of weapons he’s stolen from people who tried to take their house. Hawthorne yells for the book. Eli pretends to send it out, but it’s actually a bomb that blows up one of the cars and takes out several men. As soon as it blows, they all fire the machine guns from Ray’s stash. Eventually, Hawthorne gets the drop on Solara and threatens to kill her if Eli doesn’t give him the book. Eli struggles with it, and finally gives up its location, behind the TV. Redridge grabs it, and they take the Bible and Solara and leave — but before they do, Hawthorne shoots Eli in the gut.

In one car, Solara strangles the driver with a snow-chain and impales Redridge on Eli’s sword (which she stole and hid). The car spins out, leading the two remaining vehicles to turn around. She rolls a grenade along the road, which Hawthorne’s car sees. They get out of the way, leaving the other car to explode. Meanwhile, Solara tosses the driver of her car out and heads back to Eli. Hawthorne doesn’t want to go back for her — he’s got the Bible. Solara finds Eli and dresses his wound. They drive to San Francisco — specifically, Alcatraz Island, where a militia guards the old prison. Eli tells them he has a King James Bible, and the guards let them in. The entire prison has been turned into a library, and BOOKER (who runs it) asks to see Eli’s book. He asks for writing paper and someone who can write, then dictates the Bible from beginning to end. Meanwhile, Hawthorne finally gets the brass lock off the Bible — only to find it’s in Braille. He demands that Claudia read it, but she doesn’t remember Braille. Some time later, Eli has died. Booker packs Solara full of books and sends her on a journey of her own — to teach people to read.

Comments:

Although the “sci-fi western” concept is not exactly a new one and the ending is basically a mash-up of the different endings of the Fahrenheit 451 book and movie, this story really works really well. The writers paints a vivid picture of a not-too-distant wasteland that feels like it could be real, but they fill the story with a sense of purpose, illustrating the importance of both faith and literacy while showing how dangerous each can be (via Hawthorne). Some of the symbolism is a little overwrought, but even the idea that these two men are willing to fight so hard for the same tool, yet use it in two separate and opposing ways, resonates.

The characters, for the most part, are well-drawn. On a few occasions, the writers lapse into bland explanations of the characters’ feelings and motivations, which they already establish clearly through actions, but these moments are not distractingly awful. The only character who doesn’t work was Solara. The writers make her an important part of the story, but her character comes across as thin when compared to solid characters like Eli and Hawthorne. She seems to see Eli as a father figure, but this is a dimension of her character that’s pretty much untapped. I would have liked to see more of her noticing the parallels between Hawthorne and Eli and making the choice to leave with the better man. At the same time, since Hawthorne comes off as ruthless and evil, it might be interesting to see if Solara leaving has any real emotional impact. Humanizing him would add an extra layer to him, although he’s pretty well-defined.

Once the story hit the third act, it felt a little like the writers were just trying to stretch things out with big action sequences. The attack in the parking garage, followed almost immediately by the attack at the cannibals’ house, felt like a little much. I’m all for action, but it was basically the same scene played twice. Like the lapses into on-the-nose dialogue, the writing isn’t bad, but the repetitive action set-pieces do weaken the narrative a little bit; of course, people coming for the action won’t have a problem with it.

Overall, this is a great script loaded with relevant, compelling themes and an interesting “good vs. evil” conflict centered around possession of the Bible — plus, it’s gussied up with a disturbing sci-fi setting and plenty of Wild West shootouts and explosions. Something for (almost) everyone.

Sci-fi is sometimes a tough sell, westerns even tougher, but with a big enough star in playing Eli and an emphasis on the action and ideas over the ideas of its genre, this will definitely bring in a big audience. The notion of these people fighting to preserve the Bible ought to play in conservative, religious parts of the country, although the idea of a gun-toting, Clint Eastwood-style hero doing the preserving could go either way, possibly creating some unwanted controversy — but that will probably bring in more moviegoers.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 22, 2008 6:29 PM