The Book of Eli continues Hollywood's obsession with post-apocalyptic tales, and in many ways feels like it belongs in the same world as The Road with its ash-laden wastelands and crazed cannibals roaming about. But the comparisons end there. Where The Road is a thoughtful art film based on a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Eli is more of a popcorn action flick influenced by the visual style of graphic novels, although it's more thought-provoking and less of an adrenaline rush than the Mad Max movies.
Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a lone traveler wandering America's wastelands presumably devastated by nuclear war 30 years prior. The stark landscape is littered with abandoned cars, crumbling buildings, bombed highways, and the occasional picked-clean body. Water and food are scarce, purchased through trade of whatever you happen to be carrying—wet wipes are humorously and understandably one of the hot commodities.
Heading west for reasons that only become clear later, Eli happens upon a desert town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman, returning to his psychotic baddie roots) and his gang of violent lowlifes. The crime boss is looking to expand his territory and knows that knowledge is power in a world where most people don't know how to read. His gang searches the area (and hapless travelers) for books to help him gain control. There's one in particular he's desperate to find, a book with the power to rally people under his leadership—and Eli just happens to have the world's last remaining copy.
Yes, that book is the Bible. King James Version, at that. As recounted by Carnegie and Eli, Bibles are scarce due to a large-scale book burning after the fallout—many irrationally blamed Christianity as a cause of the war.1