Post-Apocalyptic Double Feature: The Road and The Book of Eli

Besides sharing a similar color palette and a grim view of the future, what do these films have in common? Stunted potential.

The Road (2009)

John Hilcoat’s adaption of the Cormac McCarthy novel is bleak, visceral, and incredibly depressing. It’s a tale of a Man and a Boy (so they are credited) on a road to the coast, where they hope to find greener pastures in a world destroyed by an unexplained, catastrophic event. The plants are dying, and with it, all of the animals. When not concerned with finding heat, shelter, and food, cannibalism is the primary threat while on the road…Wait. I take that back, the primary threat is actually suicide.

Daddy, do I have to practice putting the gun in my mouth again?

What could have been an intense film becomes a somber tale that questions the value of human life. While I have not read McCarthy’s book, I suspect these thematic elements may have worked better in the written medium. As a movie, I saw plenty of opportunities for more interesting (or more entertaining) stories to emerge. For example, the Man and the Boy discover a ghastly den where cannibals trap human beings for meat harvesting. Boasting some truly disturbing visuals and a cryptic display of humanity at its lowest, I couldn’t help but imagine if another storyline had surfaced. What if the Boy was captured by these cannibals? What if the Man had to rescue his son? I wish I had seen that movie. Instead, there is a lot of meandering, with sparse moments of action. And when this action occurs, the Man forces his son to hold his pistol, encouraging him to shoot himself if things get too rough. Although this is probably not too far from the truth of an apocalyptic world, I would have preferred not to watch a movie where half of the struggle is whether or not to commit suicide.


The barren world is shot well, with enough austerity to maintain a foreboding tonality throughout. The cinematographer thankfully resisted from the overexposed, flashy style of The Book of Eli. Subtle camera movements and controlled framing make The Road a well-executed film, but also add to the overall atmosphere of dread.  Vigo Mortensen is fantastic as always, as is Kodi Smit-McPhee, whose performance suggests a kid who has been forced to mature too quickly, as well as a child who is innocent enough to see the difference between the good and bad guys.

Ack, cannibals!

In the end, I can appreciate some of the thematic complexity raised in The Road regarding the purpose of human existence. However, its messages could have been communicated more effectively if I found myself caring more about the characters. After a while, the film becomes so depressing that apathy presents itself as the only solution.

The Book of Eli (2010)

The Hughes Brothers present a Hollywood-glamorized version of the apocalyptic road and its wanderers. Also on a path to the coast (or simply “West”), Eli travels through a bleached-out landscape, carrying a small backpack with important content. Unlike Vigo in The Road, Denzel Washington will stab, shoot, and karate chop his badass self through the desert.  And did I mention that everyone has to wear aviators in this version of the apocalypse? Yes, it’s a bit silly, but yes, at least it provides some entertainment.

Which path do I take? "Movie Greatness" or "Meh."
Apparently, God said, "Meh."

I’m not going to give away any plot points, but I will say this: you can see all major developments coming from a mile away. Still, predictability rarely ruins a movie for me, but you know what can ruin a movie for me? Runtime.  The Book of Eli should be 90 minutes, but it’s fluffed with drawn-out sequences of Denzel looking cool in slow-motion; so it’s about 2 hours.

Denzel puts the "hood" in Robin Hood.

The greatest problem with this movie is that its carrying a message far too serious for the type of film that it is. The plot, which turns out be quite interesting, would have been better in the hands of the filmmakers of The Road. Perhaps that blend, and some minor story changes here and there, could have produced the post-apocalyptic excitement I was look for: some intense action mixed into an impactful story where the apocalypse presents hope, but it’s not a walk down “I’m a badass” lane.

Let us pray for the box office.

I will summarize The Book of Eli with the words of advice from  a friend, “Pass…and You Tube the fight scenes.”


  1. I really thought The Road would have been more effective without the flashback scenes and the voiceover, but I liked the fact that it is a somber film about the value of human life. It is definitely more effective in the novel, but I think it works here as well.

  2. Im eagerly awaiting both, but The Road interests me more. I like the idea of it being so somber all the time...its a change from the regular hollywood bullcrap.

  3. Haven't seen either, and I guess I will be waiting for cable and/or Netflix.

    A waiter we had said he LOVED The Book of Eli, but mainly for the fight scenes, so he is echoing your sentiments.

  4. That's too bad about The Book of Eli. I was hoping for some Mad Max-ian awesomeness.

  5. Book of Eli was incredibly boring. And there was no real connection with the ending other than 'Well, we need to preserve this here book somehow.' It basically rendered the entire trek by Denzel meaningless.

    The Road sounds interesting. I'm a sucker for apocalyptic flicks.

  6. I actually really liked "the road". My own complaint would be the ending. It just seemed to not fit with the general bleakness of the entire movie. Also, I didn't mind the wanderings and lack of plot. I kind of liked that actually. The post-apocalyptic world was enough to hold my interest.

  7. Agreed. :D The road is depressing and Eli was... MEH at best. Two films with great potential that kinda blew it.

  8. I've read The Road and its indeed something that I can't think be captured on film...but I usually see the flicks in which I've read the book.

  9. I just love the way that poster has Guy Pearce's name under Mortensons...wasn't he in it for like 5 mins?

    It wasn't a bad movie, my complaints would be that it was a bit too overt in its sentimentality... and the flashbacks were a complete waste of time.

  10. Question:
    Did I see that right that it says "14:6" above that bridge in the beginning of "Book of Eli" (which would seem to be a Revelations quote)?

  11. I'm not sure. I can't remember and I don't think I noticed, but John 14:6 is "I am the way and the truth an the life. No one can come to the father except through me."

    (GIOVANNI 14:6)

  13. But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the Lord commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

    2 Kings 14:6

    Numbers don't appear to be from any book. There are lots of books in the bible with at least 14 chapters. It's all in relevance to the situation, and without the knowledge of other parts of the bible, numbers without a book name can only take you as far as your knowledge of the books. 1 and 2 Kings in the Bible is where the story of Elijah is held. Elijah, not Eli, but Eli is a sort of post apocalyptic Elijah. A prophet on a mission from God.