Max and Eli;
On The Road and At The Movies

A Look at the Differences and Similarities between The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli,
2 Post-Apocalyptic Cinematic Visions Separated by 29 Years

by Jerry A. Sierra

-- --

GOOD SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES have a tendency to conceal deep spiritual themes and environmental concerns between conflicts of violence and human drama. The ambitious few reach out to tell us something real and uneasy about who we were when the films were made.

Two very different movies, with almost 3 decades of technological evolutionary progression and sociopolitical digression between them, offer us the classic lone warrior wondering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which humanity’s future looks bleak. In each case this lone warrior eventually kills a bunch of people and helps save the future of mankind.

Both The Road Warrior (1981) and The Book of Eli (2010) feature civilization destroyed by cataclysmic war and humanity reduced to pre-civilized survival-of-the-fittest. In one film, gasoline represents not just technology but man’s spirit – a necessity for the survival of humanity. In the other, that all important element is the bible.

These movies are different from other sci-fi fare released since, and a look at their differences and similarities may give us a hint about a future we may not be able to avoid. Both display the values, concerns and attitudes on the minds of typical moviegoers (and voters) at the time; the gas shortage of the mid-to-late 1970s, and the turn towards conservative politics and evangelical reasoning after the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

In each case the “savior” is an alienated outsider, a skilled (Christ-like) warrior who appears for this task and disappears once the task is completed.

And yet, on some level, the films in question couldn’t be more different; The Road Warrior is a fast and furious action yarn with big ideas, few words and big explosions; and THE BOOK OF ELI is a moody, methodically paced and meticulously visual drama, with big ideas, few words and big explosions.

As a “double feature,” these films take us right into the heart of what plagues humanity; a lack of humane behavior.

On the road with Eli

In her essay “The Imagination of Disaster,” Susan Sontag describes nuclear devastation as “the most ominous of all the notions with which science fiction films deal.” In both our films, “universes become expendable. Worlds become contaminated, burned out, exhausted, obsolete.” Recent films have tried to show us a world devastated by our carelessness and lack of foresight, but don’t come close to placing blame where it’s due… after either of our movies, you’ll know exactly who/what to blame for the state of humanity.

When THE ROAD WARRIOR opened late in 1981, there had been nothing like it before. The few post-apocalyptic films [Day The World Ended (1955), On The Beach (1959), The Omega Man (1971), A Boy and His Dog (1975), Damnation Alley (1977) and others] had rarely articulated such a level of post-nuclear roadway mayhem, destruction and total human degradation. It’s difficult to imagine that the war could have been worse than the aftermath. Mad Max Road Warrior 3

Nearly three decades later, The Book of Eli covered the same landscape on the strength of the protagonist’s personal faith in God; Eli has been walking westward for thirty years (practically since The Road Warrior played at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles) fueled only by an inspirational message from God and his skills as a hunter/killer.

At the time these movies were in theaters, audiences had other sci-fi offerings to choose from. In 1982 you could see John Carpenter's The Thing and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, both of which have achieved cult status over the years. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (still considered by some fans as the best Star Trek movie) and the original Tron, were also available, as well as a reissue of Star Wars. But all of these together didn’t do as much business as Steven Spielberg’s runaway hit E.T.

In 2010, Inception, Tron Legacy and Iron Man II seemed to be the sci-fi films everyone saw that year.

NEXT: Three Decades of Change

- -