Written by Old Bluffer 3rd Feb 2010
Eli is a religious man in a post-apocalyptic dystopia that has renounced religion.
The world is now largely a wind swept plain of ash, with the remaining people eking out a "Wild West meets Mad Max" living amongst the remnants of a fallen civilisation.
As is completely obligatory in these genre pieces, most survivors are two-dimensional cannibals that serve no plot purpose other than to provide some mild peril. In the case of Eli, this peril is even more mild than usual, on account of it being quickly established that he is completely invincible in a brawl, regardless of how many attackers face him. This is taken to farcical levels, as cannibal scum that are by definition hardy fellows with a keen sense of survival continue to happily rush towards Eli in mindless fury, despite the floor around literally being covered with the dismembered corpses of dozens of their number.
With all action scenes therefore rendered pointless, we are free to enjoy the main plot, which is a straight-forward Macguffin Quest. In this case the Macguffin is a book that is reputed to be a powerful weapon, and it is sought by Carnegie - the local warrior lord. Carnegie is a fairly interesting character, as he rules by means of administrative skills and charisma, rather than any martial prowess. He runs a small shanty town that is doing quite well by the standards of the times, with a fresh water supply and reasonably stable population (that is about to get decimated by Eli). True, the crew of thugs he keeps for scavenging missions and security are murderers and rapists, but they generally consign these activities to outside of the town.
Carnegie is a man of ambition, and wants more than a flea infested hamlet to rule. His plan to achieve this is to send his minions across the land in search of a Book, that will grant him power over men. Now his men can't read, so they just bring back any books they find, which must be rather frustrating for him [some humour and proof of the strong religious slant of this film occurs when they bring him The Da Vinci Code and Carnegie contemptuously orders it to be burned].
The mystery of what book he desires so much isn't so hard to fathom really, given that Eli is clearly a chap with the air of a preacher, and spends every evening reading an ancient, leather bound tome.
Carnegie you see, remembers a time before the cataclysm, when religion existed, and knows the power he would wield if he could only appeal to humanity's sense of spiritual faith.
There are only two problems with this cynical plan: Firstly he has no memory for scripture himself, so needs a suitable reference book, and secondly, after civilisation fell, people lost their faith and made a point of burning every bible they could find.
Carnegie soon suspects that Eli is in posession of a holy book and the film settles into a straightforward chase, until Eli is eventually captured and forced to hand over his beloved book, or Carnegie will kill the film's token pretty girl, Solara.
Carnegie then shoots him in the gut, which is more understandable than you might think, as Eli has pretty much wiped out every one of his pet goons by this point, as well as forcing him to use up stack loads of precious fuel and munitions. Eli also shot him in the leg a while back, and the wound is turning gangrenous which must be quite irritating as well.
Eli then is left to bleed to death, but Solara manages to escape from Carnegie (destroying more vehicles in the process) and returns, presumably to pay her last respects.
This is Eli though, and he is of course invincible! Despite losing loads of blood he has managed to regain his feet, and is continuing his religious pilgrimage to the West, which he believes God told him to do.
Solara helps him, and they eventually reach the island of Alcatraz, where the selfish little wench lets him row her across the water, despite him almost being dead by this point.
From the walls of Alcatraz, they are asked their business, and Eli confidently tells them he has in his posession a copy of the King James bible, which is supposed to confound the audience, as surely Carnegie has the book?
Realistically, you'd imagine that the people in Alcatraz must be thinking "For the love of christ, the world has ended, we're holed up in an island fortress and we're *still* getting bothered by door to door bible bashers!" but actually they are thrilled to bits and eagerly let the two travellers inside.
It turns out that Alcatraz has been settled by a group of boffins, who are making it their life's work to rebuild civilisation by collecting useful reference books, great works of literature and spiritual treatises. The one book they are missing of course is a bible, which Eli gives them in the first of this movie's "twists". The bible you see is in Eli's head, and before he bleeds to death, he recites it word for word to a scribe (who presumably later dies of acute writer's cramp).
His work done, Eli is free to pass away, leaving us to wonder what happened with Carnegie now that he has his bible?
Read about Carnegie's fate plus thoughts on the film as a whole here.