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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What other book should Eli have been carrying through the apocalypse?

[spoiler for The Book of Eli… sorta]

For the first little while as I was watching The Book of Eli, I find myself thinking, “If the book is a Bible, I’m gonna scream.” Not — as reader TwistedKestrel suggested in comments — because I automatically hate any movie with a Christian theme, but because that storytelling choice in this film would have been obvious, easy, and cheap. And sure enough, the book does indeed turn out to be a Bible. And then, all bets are off, because it’s a Bible, see? The Mila Kunis character instantly and automatically sees value in this book, when it would actually make more sense for her to reject the pretty words Denzel Washington reads to her as meaningless and clearly not applicable to her life. She lives in a world, you see, where women are lucky to be the property of men who feed them and give them water — she’s already walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and there’s obviously no one watching over her. Just from a storytelling perspective, it would have made for a much stronger and much more plausible tale if she’d scoffed at this Bible nonsense and either been gradually won over to it, or never believed it at all but believed in Denzel Washington, because at least she can see his worth and goodness.
(Oh, and just to forestall the anticipated objections of folks like TwistedKestrel, I would expect, in a well-written story, for the Mila Kunis character to reject other ideas that wouldn’t make sense to her in her world, too, even ideas that I do endorse.)

Worse, from the storytelling perspective, the Gary Oldman villain doesn’t even need the book to do what he wants to do: he’s a smart man, and he knows that the power of religion is in ideas, and if he wanted to set himself up as a demigod instead of merely a warlord, he could easily have done that without actually having a Bible in his possession. That his desire for a Bible is the crux upon which the story turns means that, as a story, Book of Eli collapses totally.

It’s not a bad idea at its most basic root, though: a man carrying an important book through the end of civilization (for reasons that I won’t spoil). So: What other book should Eli have been carrying through the apocalypse?

Of course, before I knew what the book was, and when I was hoping it wasn’t a Bible, I was terrified it’d be something like Surviving the Apocalypse for Dummies, or perhaps the equivalent of the computer in the cave in that one episode of The Twilight Zone. But there’s gotta be better options than those…

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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