So the other day I went to see the Book of Eli with one of my girlfriends. I love a good post-apocalyptic adventure, and I’d read a review by Roger Ebert that had piqued my interest. Unfortunately, I had a real problem with the movie. Since seeing it, I have checked various reviews and not seen my issue discussed elsewhere. Sure, critics complain about the ridiculous reveal near the end, or comment on the questionably pro-Christian message, or the general unevenness of the story. Some complain that while it sets up potentially juicy themes of the positive vs. negative uses of religious faith, it instead chooses to wallow in hyperviolent acton sequences.
Hyperviolent actions sequences that are very stylish. The Book of Eli is beautifully shot in crisp over-exposed, mostly black and white. The Mad Max aesthetic and dusty setting will please any Burning Man enthusiasts in the audience. The movie makes (I think) clever and conscious use of the tropes of post-apocalyptic fiction, a trick it hangs a lampshade on by putting villainous Gary Oldman’s lair in a movie theater and putting a poster for A Boy and his Dog on the wall in the background of a scene set there.
But the Book of Eli is so sexist it doesn’t just fail the Bechdel-Wallace test with a F-, it travels into some whole other territory where it gets flying colors on some new, mythical test where you get points for denigrating and abusing female characters. I’ll let you come up with a clever name for it.
Here are all the women I remember from the Book of Eli:
- The first woman we see is a sexual decoy, used to lure Eli into a trap lain by men who plan to murder and cannibalize Eli.
- Next, we see an anonymous woman travelling with her male partner. She is raped and murdered to establish how hardcore evil a group of villains are.
- Jennifer Beals’ character, who is Gary Oldman’s property and abused/used as a pawn.
- Mila Kunis, who plays Beals’ daughter. She is completely passive throughout almost the entire film, the victim of an attempted rape by the cannibals from the beginning of the movie, and only learns to stand up for herself under a man’s (Eli’s) tutelage.
- Another anonymous woman, a sex worker at Oldman’s whorehouse who is raped in the background to provide extra color in a chaotic scene during the denouement.
- Oh yeah, and a doddering elderly cannibalistic matron who invites our heroes in for tea despite husband’s misgivings. Then she gets killed. But at least she’s funny.
And yes, Kunis’ and Beal’s characters have a few conversations… about either Oldman or Eli.
In other words: No sir, I didn’t like it. When we came home, we watched a few episodes of Firefly just to purge the bad taste from my brain.