The Book Of Esu
*** WARNING: This post may contain spoilers! ***
As the movie started, I wondered what Orisa would manifest. I saw the images of Eli shooting people with a bow and arrow and I thought Ochosi. But his hunting was only for survival or defense on an apocalyptic Earth where food was scarce. He was not a serious hunter. I saw images of him wielding a machete where he was facing several opponents at once and thought Ogun. But he was not a man of technology. He used what he had for protection and survival but didn’t do any building or creating in a MacGyver like style. I thought he might be a manifestation of Sango. There was one scene with the lightening in the background. But Eli was not interested in being a ladies man or being charismatic. He kept his interaction with others to a minimum and seemed to be more at ease by himself, reading his book.
When it was revealed that he was delivering his book, when it was obvious he was delivering a message, I settled on Esu, the Orisa of communication among other things. Embracing Baba Esu is often considered the first step towards spiritual enlightenment. He opens the door for spiritual learning. The fact that his book was a Christian bible pretty much sealed the deal for me. Eli was a manifestation of Baba Esu, only far more serious than the always laughing, smiling Esu so many of us have been introduced to in such movies as Crossroads featuring Ralph Macchio as Eugene Martone, and Joe Seneca as Willie Brown. Esu went by the name ‘Legba in the movie and was always smiling his way into causing mischief for anyone. This manifestation of Esu was far different. Although his deception was never intended to cause mischief for anyone, he played his fair share of tricks on the other characters in the movie.
The movie appears as a remake of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It is set on an Earth trying to recover from a nuclear war in the future. Just take Mel Gibson’s Max and replace him with Denzel Washington’s Eli and then take Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity and replace her with Gary Oldman’s Carnegie and you have ninety percent of the film. The last piece of the new formulation is Eli’s book, referred to as the last surviving copy of the Christian bible. Eli is on a quest to take his bible somewhere where it will be safe from the likes of people like Carnegie who would use the good book as a tool to control other people.
The movie says more about our rather confusing relationship with our spirituality than with anything else. Carnegie is old school. He remembers the days prior to the nuclear exchange when people live and died by the words found in the bible. He remembers how a bible could disguise a man of hate. A bible can make some of the most obscene devils look like appealing angels as long as they held a copy of god’s alleged word in their hands. A man can feel like he has god’s favor as long as he kept his hands on god’s book. A man can feel like he can cast judgment on an entire country of people trying to recover from an earthquake as long as he is alleged to have a reputation for doing god’s work. A man of god can control people and Carnegie is looking for absolute control in a town where he already controls everything. And when Carnegie discovers that Eli has a bible, he must have it at any and all cost.
Eli has his own spiritual mission. If I didn’t know better I’d say he was a Shoalin Monk with a bit of an attitude. He easily trounces his adversaries with his martial art moves and his machete. Eli is using his faith to guide him across the country, traveling west as he searches for a place of redemption for himself and god’s word. He knows that Carnegie has plans to corrupt the word of god for his own personal benefit. The word of god isn’t safe with such a man. And the paths of these two men are on a collision course with the future of what’s left of the world at stake.
I found this movie smart and well thought out. There were some discrepancies. I wondered what happened to the children who would have been born disfigured and deformed in a future so bleak and bound to be suffering from radioactive fallout. But other than that, the film is smartly done. The monotonous grey tone throughout the film lends itself well to the bleakness of the future and the loss of humanity. The world is a much more dangerous place where people fight and kill each other over things that are much less than what we throw away. This movie comes with a commentary about gluttony and a reminder about everything we choose to casually waste.
If there is one overriding characteristic of Baba Esu for me to point to is his ability of presenting us with opportunities to show the true nature of our character. When we believe that things are truly at their toughest, what decisions do we make? Do we think long term about the social ramifications of our choices or do we simply dwell on the immediate gratification aspects? Somebody made the choice to stockpile nuclear weapons and when that choice was made it gave other people choices to eventually use them. And it was just a matter of time before we collectively give somebody the opportunity to make the wrong choice for everybody. There is a lesson about choice here. And that has got to be Baba Esu’s domain.