CATEGORIES Hot Topic
At first, the thought of The Hughes Brothers ('From Hell,' 'American Pimp,' 'Menace II Society') directing an overtly religious movie seemed a bit unbelievable. Perhaps 'The Book of Eli' just features Denzel Washington as a weapon-wielding badass with a penchant for quoting the Old Testament like Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction,' right? Wrong...

Well, OK, Washington's post-apocalyptic loner Eli is a master at killing AND quoting Scripture, but the critical buzz is correct: 'The Book of Eli' contains just as much (if not more) Christian imagery as 'The Chronicles of Narnia.'

The intriguing multi-million-dollar question is: Will true believers rally around a violent, hard-R movie like 'The Book of Eli' -- even if it heavily promotes Christian themes? It's complicated, because this is not a movie made specifically by Christian filmmakers ('Fireproof' or 'Bella') or about a football-loving conservative family ('The Blind Side') or a religious abolitionist responsible for one of the most enduring hymns of all time ('Amazing Grace') -- to mention just a few movies that have received considerable support from churchgoing audiences. At first, the thought of The Hughes Brothers ('From Hell,' 'American Pimp,' 'Menace II Society') directing an overtly religious movie seemed a bit unbelievable. Perhaps 'The Book of Eli' just features Denzel Washington as a weapon-wielding badass with a penchant for quoting the Old Testament like Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction,' right? Wrong...

Well, OK, Washington's post-apocalyptic loner Eli is a master at killing AND quoting Scripture, but the critical buzz about the overwhelming spiritual themes is correct: 'The Book of Eli' contains just as much (if not more) Christian imagery as 'The Chronicles of Narnia.'

The intriguing multi-million-dollar question is: Will true believers rally around a violent, hard-R movie like 'The Book of Eli' -- even if it heavily promotes Christian themes? It's complicated, because this is not a movie made specifically by Christian filmmakers ('Fireproof' or 'Bella') or about a football-loving conservative family ('The Blind Side') or a religious abolitionist responsible for one of the most enduring hymns of all time ('Amazing Grace') -- to mention just a few movies that have received considerable support from churchgoing audiences.

Despite mixed reviews from critics, 'Eli' has scored so far with movie audiences, coming in No. 2 with $38 million over the four-day holiday weekend after James Cameron's unstoppable 'Avatar;' 'Eli' even bumped 'Avatar' off first place for one-day totals on Friday. The $38 million haul is the second-highest in Washington's three-decade career, behind only 2007's 'American Gangster,' and by far the Hughes Brothers' highest earner (period, not just opening weekend) to date. If word-of-mouth continues to grow among religious audiences, 'Eli' should soldier on to easily break the $100-million mark.



Let's sum up the biblical themes in 'Eli' (spoilers ahead!).

In a dystopian United States nearly devoid of water or food, a well-armed Eli walks the barren landscape "by faith not by sight." He has one goal: to head West with the world's only remaining Bible (a King James Version, to be precise). He believes he has been called by a "voice in his head" to deliver the Bible to the right hands and further believes he's supernaturally protected from harm while on his prophetic mission. Yes, he kills a whole heckuva lot of people, but everyone he offs pretty much deserves his wrath (rapists, cannibals, thieves, killers), and he definitely seems invincible. And as previously mentioned, Eli can quote entire passages of Scripture without so much as a stutter.

"I'm really going to be interested to see how this movie plays with Christians," says Paul Asay, associate editor of Focus on the Family's Plugged In, an entertainment site for evangelical Christians. "My guess is that evangelical leaders will have a difficult time fully embracing the film, but a lot of actual evangelicals will go."

Even though critics like The New York Post's Kyle Smith have called 'The Book of Eli' a "Christian blockbuster," the problem is the film's at-times gruesome violence (dismemberment, rape, blood splatter) and standard R-rated language (nothing that would make Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith fans blush, but still the usual F-bombs). Considering there are religious moviegoers who think Pixar and Harry Potter movies are inappropriate, the body count in 'Eli' may keep even curious devout audiences away.

On the other hand, star-and-producer Washington's cred in the Christian community (he's the son of a Pentecostal pastor and outspoken about his faith -- coming in at No. 2 in Beliefnet's list of "Most Powerful Christians in Hollywood") coupled with the story's explicit spirituality is likely to make R-shy viewers of faith reconsider.

After all, 'The Passion of the Christ' (made by the most powerful Christian in Hollywood, Mel Gibson) was rated R too.