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
The brilliant narration at the beginning of WARRIOR provides an excellent backdrop for the story, which belongs to the characters and the actors (much more than in ELI). Originally titled MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR, the film was renamed to avoid connections to a previous counterpart that was rarely seen in the U.S.
In ELI the back-story is a mystery that unfolds slowly… we learn that Eli has walked west for thirty years, and we can surmise that whatever happened that so devastated the planet took place before his walk began. We know that Eli continues walking on “faith,” but we never learn much about his life before the journey.
The film graphically shows the decay of this new world; everything is colored with nostalgic earth tones. Only the old people know how to read or remember how things were.
“They said that the war tore a hole in the sky,” explains Eli, “the sun came down and burned everything… and everybody.” The landscape looks as if this could have actually happened. “This isn’t the end of the world,” wrote Mick LaSalle in his SF Chronicle review, “This is what it looks like after the end.” Every building or structure that could signify the presence of an advanced civilization is broken, damaged and repurposed.
In terms of story, what we know in the first ten minutes of WARRIOR takes us over an hour to learn in ELI. For a while we don’t know how Eli’s world got this way, although we can probably guess by the look of things.
Both scenarios seem plausible enough in their context, and there’s no logical way to “pretend” that our present world could not evolve towards either of these “realities.” But that may be where the logic stops. Other things we’re asked to accept on “faith;” Where does Eli keep his bow and arrow? How can he aim his weapons so well? How is it that bullets seem to fly past him? And why doesn’t he die after he’s repeatedly shot at point-blank range?
In WARRIOR, the small community with a working oil refinery wants nothing more than to recreate their world. “Nothing to do but breed,” states a buoyant participant showing off postcards from “Sunshine Coast,” their desired destination two-thousand miles away. Their intentions may be pure, but nobody talks about how things will be different in their new world. And there’s no hint of any attempted negotiations with the biker pirates that surround them, or of how their feuding began. Couldn’t they establish some way to trade? Are these bikers just too “primitive” to function as consumers or business partners?
To a child with a hammer, the answer to every question may be a handful of nails. To the muscle bound biker leader Humongous, the answer is gasoline.
The good people want to rebuild the world, and the lesser ones just want to maintain their nomadic, motorized lifestyle. (Today we face similar conflicts around the world; some countries have their own ideas about God and religion, and some choose a different type of government than we do. How do we respond to these differences? Do we embrace them in friendship?)
It’s a little easier to tell the good guys from the bad guys in WARRIOR, although it can be confusing; “You belong out there with the vermin,” says Papagallo (Mike Preston) to Max for refusing to join them. But Max has no choice; loner world-saviors don’t join communities.
In ELI there’s only one good guy, the rest are villains or victims. [This resembles the ideological separation that grows throughout the American landscape—the cult of the individual; armed with iPads, laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, digital readers and GPS. Each of us hiding in personal caves with high-speed-Internet, digital security doors and enough weapons to “defend ourselves.”]
Here protagonist and antagonist have seemingly different reasons for wanting the book; one wants to become a powerful ruler, the other wants to preserve something beautiful. In the context of the story, Eli stands for the “good” in mankind, although arguments could be made that both men’s intentions are “decent” enough, and neither is a “saint.”
Carnegie’s motivations, while ambitious and selfish, are not necessarily evil; he wants to rule, to own and to motivate. Is he any different than anyone we might vote for in a typical presidential election? The Humongous, on the other hand, does not seem to propose any positive idea (a leader not moving forward?) and only seems to represent raw strength and blind ambition, perhaps an underachiever child of privilege trying to carve out his own identity separate from that of a smarter brother. Does he sound different from any recent politician that has led a country to an avoidable war and economic devastation?