Now you may consider propaganda to be a bad thing, cough and generally I am no fan of it myself, cheap however I always respect skill wherever it is displayed and the recent film The Book of Eli certainly merits comment.
WARNING: Huge fat spoilers. Don’t read this entry if you still want to watch the film.
Firstly let’s just get any objections about this being propaganda out of the way. If you have any doubts this was propaganda, generic simply try to imagine the reaction you would have had to this film if instead of the Bible, the Book of Eli in the film turned out to be say, The Lord of The Rings. Or something equally thick. Shogun would do. Or even Tarzan, the big version, which would be really fascinating if you consider its application in a post apocalyptic setting since in the book Tarzan happily eats bugs and grubs to survive. Notice the very different sensations this generates from The Bible. If you want to stretch yourself a bit more then try to imagine some other options. Here are a few suggestions to entertain you:
(Keep the film exactly the same, with the same lines and so on, except that where the Bible is quoted, a similarly appropriate quote from the relevant book listed below is used instead. In some cases these can be the same exact lines as the book may reference the same passage of the Bible anyway):
The Koran (go on…admit it…you’re thinking: “Well that at least would explain how WWIII happened!”)
Any Hellboy Graphic Novel (this should set the fundamentalist Christians frothing at the mouth)
McMafia by Misha Glenny (in which case Gary Oldman’s character would basically turn out to be following the Good Book and Denzel would be a deluded cripple)
A Cosmopolitan Magazine (Just how does the hottie keep her hair so lush without any L’Oreal products?!?)
If you actually imagine those books (or really any selection of others you prefer) as being the Book of Eli, you will notice that the film’s effect would be quite different. In most cases at least some element of comedy would certainly be present. Something that is quite distinctly lacking in the film as it stands.
Furthermore, unless you are some lost tribe of the Amazon, regardless of your religious views, you are unlikely to not know about the Bible and Christianity in general. And this is where the film’s brilliance as propaganda is evidenced. Is it subtle? Not at all. Is it, by most people’s standards rather a predictable movie? Sure. Is it selling its obvious main point as the good and right way? Most obviously. Surely then it can’t be very good propaganda being as it’s so obvious?
Well, did you know that actually some of the most effective —and thus “best”— propaganda is exactly of this nature? Blunt, obvious, predictable and most people would think it couldn’t possibly work on them for being so. There is no doubt that this film is propaganda.
My only question really is whether it was intentional propaganda or if it’s rather a more bizarre product of the previously installed Christian belief system. If it’s the latter case then it’s possibly the clearest example of a self-propagating meme. Which also would explain why the Christian religion has lasted so long and is so widespread. The Huges Brothers are no strangers to confused Christian mythology after all. What I am curious about is the percentage of it that is due to their own personal religious beliefs and the percentage that is due to them wanting to issue forth something either controversial enough (unlikely since the films are not really controversial) or with already a large enough following to finally make them really big time. Christianity is not a bad one to go for in this case. It will be interesting to see how this film does at the box office. Critics so far are not exactly lauding it from on high, but we’ll see what the paying public decides in time.
Of course labeling any sort of “true” religious mythos as propaganda is liable to start mobs of religious zealots lighting torches somewhere near my home and that is no good thing. So, if you have any torch-lighting urges, try instead to imagine the simple expedient of replacing that particular book with one of another “religion” you do not ascribe to. For our purposes then we might want to use something utterly fictional, totally implausible and unlikely to offend anyone even remotely sane. If you beat me to it and are thinking Scientology and the book Dianetics, then well done you! Just because it’s fun to think of people believing that whole Xenu thing with the volcano not to mention the pneumonia that can result by just reading about Xenu (though as I recall it that bit isn’t in Dianetics).
Overall I think the film was well executed. It even had some personally meaningful bits as several of the Hollywoodesque fight scenes had undertones of Systema. Particularly with that whole eye issue he has.
Overall though I was left with a sensation best described as mildly disturbed, for just how good a bit of propaganda it is. Most people, already familiar with the concept of Christianity would not see it this way and just probably go away thinking it was a so-so post-apocalyptic film with some good effects and some captivating mood. Try if you will, to consider how you would view this story if you were from 3000 years ago and the only underlying belief system you had was the one of the ancient Greek Gods of Olympos. In fact, even just putting yourself in that mindset is quite difficult. Just so we’re clear, my own position is one of agnosticism. Now all you have to decide is whether I am just expressing my own honest opinion or whether I am trying to convert you to my point of view for personal or political gain.
But you should already know that I get my personality cult needs satisfied in other ways by now, so hopefully you can see this entry is just my way of expounding on the benefits of keeping an open, yet observant mind about you.
Let the torchings begin in the comments I say.