The characters of the film are Eli, Carnegie, Solara, Redridge (Carnegie’s “right-hand man”) and Claudia and their symbolism is tied directly to the plot
The main character is Eli (Denzel Washington) who is on foot, making his way to some destination in the west to deliver a special book he is guarding with his life. Eli literally translated from the Hebrew is “My God,” so the title of the film is really “The Book of My God.” Eli is The Bible in a way appreciated by fans of Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.”
Carnegie (Gary Oldman) just so happens to be looking for a specific book. Despite the “survival mode” demanded by the setting (he may own the last shampoo bottle on earth) it is quite odd to be looking for a book—even this one—but then Carnegie is odd. When he discovers that Eli might have what he is looking for, he pursues Eli with every intention of acquiring it. Carnegie might be a reference to “The Carnegie Foundation for The Advancement of Teaching” (founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie to better build knowledge through teaching. There is saying that literature is the scripture of the Gnostics). While Carnegie rejects all other books brought to him by his illiterate minions (and I ask, “really?”), he is after the “source of all knowledge” with the desire of ushering in a revival of his own through the mystical powers of this particular. Carnegie’s influence is exercised by the spontaneous and bloody Redridge (Ray Stevenson), a synonym for a bloody blade.
Claudia (Jennifer Beals) is Carnegie’s wife—concubine might better describe her. This is a name that harkens back to any number of ancient figures, but some that might be implied here are Claudia, the wife of Nero; or, to Claudia Procula, the wife of Pontias Pilate (incidentally, Gary Oldman played Pontias Pilate in the 1999 movie “Jesus”, and “Jean Baptiste” in “The Fifth Element”). Her daughter is Solara (Mila Kunis) whose name means, “the sun”, later seems to become a protégé of Eli’s cause.
The story begins with a visual description of devastation and the desperation of survival. Eli winds his way westward meeting a variety of situations that allow the viewer to understand this man is a fighting machine (he chooses his fights), and is quite adept with a blade and other weapons. His journey takes him to an unnamed town where he crosses paths with Carnegie, who wants his book. Eli flees with an unwelcome companion (Solara) through scenarios reminiscent of “The Road,” and Mad Max films.
The thrust of the plot communicates the supposition that mystical powers are bestowed on the one who possesses this last copy of Bible. This is what drives Carnegie’s search for this Holy Grail: power. Man seeks power in a world destroyed by the misuse of power? Really? Is that all there is for a plot?
There is great difficulty trying to find an issue this film actually touches: there is nothing redemptive. One great example of this concerns the message of the Bible itself: God’s missionary heart. The character Eli fails to share the book and the contents of the book. For one as close to the contents as he is, why doesn’t he do what it says? There are prayers in the movie, and the acknowledgement of God, but what kind of God is He? He is clearly not the God of the Bible.
Eli is blind, and there are clues to his blindness throughout the film (heightened senses exercised in a “Daredevil” kind of way). Eli is The Bible in a Ray Bradbury “Farenheit 451” way; but there stirs a curiosity with a heavy implication: is “My God” blind? Considering the setting of the film (a world destroyed by nuclear holocaust), is the deity suggested by the story more concerned about getting a copy of His Book on a shelf between Torah and Qur’an than what happened to the world and the people in it? His blindness is further suggestive in Eli’s over-protection of the Bible: that the message of The Bible is not for all mankind but is to be preserved as literature (anyone paying attention to literature would know that the Bible is the most quoted book in existence, so it is impossible to destroy all copies). This completely misses the message of scripture.
There is a heavy suggestion that literature is worth something, but the writers completely miss one crucial point: the Bible is the most-quoted book of all time (beyond the fact it is also the best-selling). Destroying all copies of the Bible is impossible, for most all literature itself would have to be destroyed. The Bible can be completely reproduced from quotes alone, references and all.
A question I often ask people is, “Why do they call the Bible ‘The Good Book’ if it is filled with all sorts of violence: rape, war, incest, etc?” This is an appropriate question to ask here amongst the rolling heads, blood splatters, suggested cannibalism and general debauchery. The main issue clearly delivered by the film is the depravity of man both in the making of the story and in the story itself. Scripture shows how sinful man is and what God has done to rescue man from the penalty, power and presence of sin. The bigger question now is: what is man’s response to what God has done? The merely delivery of a book is nothing—the contents are everything.
Perhaps this movie should stand as a warning: you can have it all in the head, you can have it all in the heart; but, only a transformed life through the subject of its message brings the abundant life.