Non-Mormon Mormon movie: ‘The Book of Eli’

A lonely man wanders the wilderness after an apocalyptic war. He is the last of his kind. He carries with him scriptures that are sealed and can only be read by those with special gifts. These scriptures are so valuable that an evil tyrant wants to get his hands on them.

(WARNING: SPOILERS COMING — IF YOU ARE GOING TO SEE THIS MOVIE, STOP READING UNLESS YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE).

The lonely man is a kind of prophet named Eli (Heb: “my God.”) who quotes scriptures. In the end, we learn he has completely memorized the King James Bible. He “translates” the Bible by dictating it to another man who writes it all down and prints it for future generations.

It’s easy to see some Mormon parallels in “The Book of Eli.”

I have not been able to find any evidence that the Mormon parallels are intentional, however. Several Mormon reviewers have noted the similarities between Eli’s story and the Book of Mormon. Note some here and here. I thought I’d add my brief thoughts on this movie, which I saw this week in my hotel room while traveling.

Some reviewers have called “The Book of Eli” kind of a combination of “The Road” and “Left Behind.” There’s an evangelical’s reverence of the Bible as something magical that permeates the movie. But there’s also a fair amount of violence and lots of unnecessary uses of the “F-word.” Pet peeve alert: this movie could have easily been PG-13 by cutting the cursing. The violence is no worse than “Lord of the Rings,” and there’s no sex or nudity. Why do directors feel like serious movies need to have R ratings?

Quick plot summary: The Eli of the movie is a lone wanderer (played by Denzel Washington) walking through a post-Apocalyptic wasteland. He gets in several battles and seems to have samurai-like abilities. He is carrying a book that he reads every night. It turns out the book is a Bible, perhaps the last one around because all of the Bibles were burned by angry people after the apocalypse. Eli wanders into a town controlled by a really bad guy (played by Gary Oldman) who wants to get his hands on the book because he wants to use the power of its words to control people. Most people have forgotten religion, and Oldman’s character sees it as an opiate of the masses, an opiate he can administer.

Much stylizing bloodshed ensues. Eli gets a follower. He finally escapes but Oldman steals the book, which turns out to be sealed with a lock and — surprise — is in braille, so Oldman can’t read it. Eli keeps on walking west until he get to San Francisco, where some survivors have set up a library as part of a future attempt to civilize the post-apocalyptic world. The Bible is an essential part of civilization, we learn, along with, of course, the Koran and the Torah. But not, noticeably, the Book of Mormon. Eli, it turns out, is blind and has been miraculously brought to the library, where he dictates the entire Bible to a scribe.

So, there are some interesting Book of Mormon parallels worth investigating. Again, I don’t think they are purposeful because there is little evidence the writers even know the Book of Mormon story.

“The Book of Eli” is worth seeing if you get a chance. Denzel Washington is a cool Moroni.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “Non-Mormon Mormon movie: ‘The Book of Eli’

  1. I actually wonder how much research the writers/producers did given that one of the books Eli’s dictated Bible is placed next to at the very end is the Tanakh, which practically constitutes the entire Old Testament! Oh well, I suppose they still didn’t have the New Testament.

  2. Glad you mentioned the cursing…..that pretty much takes this off the list of things to see.

  3. Yeah, the cursing is really pretty bad and unnecessary. I used to get Cleanflicks, but that was put out of business by rapacious, unscrupulous, hypocritical Hollywood directors (and now follows the inevitable defense of directors’ rights to protect their movies — except of course from airline movie versions, where they apparently have no issues).

    Anyway, there is another solution, which is Clearplay. I’ll probably get this when my younger kids get older.

    http://www.clearplay.com/

  4. Wow! Those parallels are interesting.

    As for the “R” rating, they probably thought it would drive more people to the box offices

  5. Michael Medved has done several studies showing that R ratings actually hurt box office take, yet directors continue to throw in the gratuitous stuff in the name of “art.”

    This movie could easily be PG-13 without the 10-12 uses of the F-word. Stupid.

  6. It would appear that many LDS people still do not heed the words of modern day prophets: President Ezra Taft Benson, gave us excellent counsel when he said:

    “We counsel you … not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. … Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same” (“To the Youth of the Noble Birthright,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 45).

  7. Randy – it would also appear that many LDS people still do not heed the words of modern day prophets: President Brigham Young gave us excellent counsel when he said:

    “One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both state and national, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.” (Proclamation on the Economy, 1875)

  8. Yes! I knew just a few choice words could turn this post into a contentious discussion of R ratings and their evil effects on the poor (or something).

  9. It seems quite impossible for someone to memorize the Old and New Testaments like that. New Testament might not be a problem – but the Old Testament? Ay caramba that’s a lot of material.

  10. Exactly my point, Danithew. How did Joseph Smith dictate a 500-page book in two months? Exact same thing.

    I think one of the points of the movie is that Eli was guided by a supernatural power, a power that wanted to make sure the written Bible survived. He says he received a communication from God. He is blind yet he has these fight scenes where he kills a dozen guys with his sword and guns. If a blind man can shoot somebody 100 yards away (guided by Providence) he can memorize the Bible.

    On a more academic level, I think believing scholars really do believe that Isaiah, for example, was inspired by a higher power to write the things that he did. Moses really did have supernatural encounters. So the “Book of Eli” is relying on faith to help you believe he could do such a task.

  11. What’s the deal with spoiling major parts of the movie Geoff? I’m glad I saw it in the theaters. It’s new to dvd so you may have readers that want to see it despite the swearing.

    Anyway, I know the guy that wrote the movie, Gary. I’ll point him to the thread and see if he’s interested in talking about it. He uses vulgarity though, so you may not want him posting here. From conversations about the movie I can tell you that the parallels to our religion are not intentional, I asked him the same thing. He’s originally from the U.Kk. and didn’t know much about Mormons until he moved to California.

    As for the rating, I doubt the violence could have been PG-13. Bloodless deaths are the norm for PG-13, and this movie had plenty of blood spattering.

    My favorite movie ever is rated R and has some LDS themes as well (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). All the best movies are rated R (other than Princess Bride).

  12. And after one quick gun battle in town it’s pretty clear there is supernatural forces helping Eli (this has been backed up by Gary), so it’s not unbelievable that those same forces would help him memorize the Bible. Even so, he starts his journey as a young kid in his 20s (I believe this is explained in the movie, if not it’s on the extras). I have no idea what age he is at the end, let’s say 50. That’s 30 years of memorizing, which doesn’t seem impossible to me.

  13. Jjohnsen, sorry about the spoilers. You’re right — I’ll add a warning.

    Good point about him traveling around for 30 years. He does point that out in the movie.

  14. Randy, give me a break, Benson was talking to the youth of the church, not adults who can make wise choices and process things more maturely. And “R-rated” means different things in different countries.

    Book of Eli was fantastic, I thought. But it does have some errors that strain believability. No way could iPods and moist towelettes survive in any useful form for over a decade. And the Bible in Braille would come out to about 22 of the volumes Denzel was carrying!

  15. Christopher B, I didn’t know that about braille — learned something new today. Makes sense, though, that braille would take up more space than written text.

  16. Here is your conspiracy, Geoff:

    The fact that the BoM was not retained alongside the Bible and Koran is evidence that the writers indeed knew and intentionally included Mormon lore. Had the BoM been included, the link would have been too overt and obvious. Those with eyes to see will see…

  17. A blind person once showed me his braille scriptures. They took up most of an 8-foot table, since the pages aren’t nearly so compact. His copies of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price took up nine or ten volumes, and the Bible was bigger than all of those combined.

  18. Randy, for what it’s worth, I think you’re right on the R rated movies….just wanted you to know that. :)

  19. It is not uncommon in the world we live in today to hear and speak in an “R” rating. The language isn’t for “art,” but for believe-ability. The U.S. is so blind to the rest of the world because of the FCC, that even non mormons are often found speechless by an “F” bomb, but reality is that it’s very normal. The more money you make, it seems that cursing is common language. If you believe it to be filth, then by all means follow the prophet and return to the bubble. I have found that many from the Utah bubble like their fantasy world and would rather believe that it isn’t normal. We are all gossipers here, which i do believe is frowned upon also. So please; immerse yourself in freedom. It feels great!

  20. Silverscreen83, Wow. It’s amazing then that there were any good movies prior to the F-bomb being allowed. How did movies like Casablanca, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Maltese Falcon ever get labeled as great cinema without vulgar cursing? Surely, the hard-boiled types of people that Humphrey Bogart played must have used vulgarities in real life.

    By the way, there’s a lot more decent people in this country, other than Utah mormons, who abhor casual use of vulgar language.

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