Hollywood ushers in the Apocalypse
Having viewed three post-Apocalyptic films in 10 days — “The Road,” “Book of Eli,” and “Legion” — I found two out of three superbly acted in telling their stories, one bleak and two hopeful.
“Legion,” another Book of Revelation-, Tribulation- and Armageddon-themed thriller, opened screens nationwide Jan. 22. “Eli” and “The Road” have time settings of 10 to 30 years after the cataclysms. “Legion” places the event as happening now at a desert diner called Paradise. Having again grown angry at his creation, God has sent a contingent of angels to invoke his wrath. However, a pregnant woman lives there (a twist on the one righteous person to spare Sodom and Gomorrah tale), whose unborn child represents humankind’s hope of possible repentance. (Incidentally, in the New Testament, Jesus cast out a demon who gave the name Legion.)
Arriving prior to the destructive angelic chorus led by Gabriel (just after one of the diners utters something about finding a Bible), archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) has disobeyed the deity and fallen to earth to intercept God’s coming wrath. Michael has found an unmarried diner waitress (Adrianne Palicki) and a good-hearted, compassionate redneck, Jeep (Lucas Black), who counters God’s loss of faith in men and women by enlisting a cross section of diner guests before the demonic angel apocalypse.
This oasis in the desert lies at the bottom of the economic strata. Its owner anticipated an interstate exchange, but the high traffic development went further west, leaving the so-called Paradise little more than a squinty, beat-up trailer parked on the lot with petroleum station junk tires and junk cars. This sandy strip’s mixture of down and out and stranded by fate do not anticipate coffee, beer, or biscuit eaters strolling in by day or night. Nope. It’s angels against angels; the kind with wings, not motorcycles.
Amidst this depressing hopelessness, Jeep still offers to befriend and take responsibility for the single mom and her child. An obvious yet mostly poorly executed representation of Mary, Joseph and the messiah.
“Legion” has an out of sync pendulum that the director Scott Stewart allows to stall at the “spoof” swing (think momentary touches of “Zombieland,” especially when a white haired lady shows her teeth) but then ramps it up for the opposite as it stalls on bullets, blasts, and wings fluttering. Under this uncertain, mostly darkening mood, it’s difficult to see beyond the square footage of the desert, rather than contemplating worldwide, no sunrise tomorrow ramifications.
Ultimately, the flick ratchets into automatic weapon spraying shootouts, leaving slight prophetic inscriptions, such as that this might have been more a narrow annihilation (the setting is very close to Vegas) than a Great Flood.
Faith in one’s self and others aside, any recommendation here would be for fans of dark graphic novel battles and penchants for bad breath, periodontal wretched mouths of bloody bicuspids. No lead or rusty colors either; brilliant red colors for bleeding on the gravel and floor.
“THE ROAD” AND “BOOK OF ELI”
“Book of Eli” (unlike “The Road”) had the benefit of a Warner Bros. budget, which distinguishes the destruction. The ruins of the partially intact Golden Gate Bridge impressed. The gray, parched, lead-look which McG engineered for the “Terminator” reboot seems trite by now.
“Eli” accentuates a heartland smitten back to western living, and it’s cousin, the post-apocalyptic “The Road, “ envisions a jungle tribe approach (think “Survivor”) with can’t resist Romero trademarked flesh eating zombies (no, call it like it is, cannibals) facing a crueler reality. The latter equates more deep thoughts, but “Eli” allows you to enjoy yourself a little while also thinking critically about its message — one of hope, but also, that from the same source can evolve — with power in human hands — both evil and good.
By contrast, the more intimate father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smith-McPhee) drama “The Road,” sends them along pathways where inhabitants remain fully human. Jutted by a scene of live (partially eaten) humans imprisoned by roving cannibals, the helplessness of all punctuates the reason why the boy’s mom chose suicide and why his dad has instructed him about a hidden gun with two bullets in case the sunny beach for which they seek proves as inhospitable as the heartland.
Gloom begets greater fears. The young boy wants to ‘trust’ others like before the Apocalypse; his dad knows they must be vetted in much more crude ways than punching a social security ID through a computer.
Seriously, you are accompanying father and son (and what still stands) on an end of the world (as we knew it) hike and you absorb the desolate and foreboding non-future that has arrived.
As for Eli, the name represents that of a faithful prophet (Denzel Washington) who has crossed the desolate nation on foot. Having survived a minimum of three “High Noon”/”Rio Bravo” shoot-outs — a dessert barrage, a fortified farmhouse, and the obligatory saloon slaughter — the main character’s a contradictory figure to depict a Christ-like prophet. Perhaps only partially, though, as his mixed martial arts and weapons skills run afoul of the “peace” message of the gospel. His strong moralistic beliefs bear noble fruit in a scene where he rejects a ‘gift’ prostitute, then offers her food, drink, and a prayer before dinner.
Eli will soon out maneuver an intellectual would-be new world dictator (Gary Oldham), but the film’s riveting balance of unpreventable bashing of teeth and bone with glimpses of compassion and kindness meet the Pacific rim awfully quick.
The Hughes Brothers work the symbolism and perceptions excellently, avoiding a preaching temptation for a laid back, honest, rules for living and treating others approach. Broadly, more than the “book” can be used for good or evil, so can nuclear power, or “control” of others. Almost anything can become an obsession and thereby tainted.
Do unto others better than yourself. That’s an irony itself as it’s also been flamed at Fahrenheit 451 at least partially blamed for the bombed out cities, burnt out car laden highways, and the packs of cycle riding gangs preying upon anything still alive. Yet, it contains the seeds of hope for a future civilization.
Infamously, Jim Jones, who the ordered mass suicide in Jonestown, invoked the absolute authoritarian nature of some belief systems (cults), yet, he had before him the same words that articulately embody loving your brother (or sister) more than yourself. The Bible has spawned the Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts, man-made and man-enforced doctrine ranging from dress codes (women must wear skirts/dresses, no pants) to lifestyle rules (no smoking, drinking, visiting amusement parks, reading comic books, going to sporting events), and male gender superiority (woman must follow their husband’s commands, they can’t serve in certain church positions).
By contrast, those verses that seemingly inspire tyranny do not equate with other more prominent themes of unconditional love, peaceful relationships, and disdain for self-importance (thus the accusation that many man-made rules are taken out of context).
Washington may trudge down a familiar bombed-out pathway, but I’m happy they’ve mostly avoided zombie incarnations in favor of the intellectual would-be New World dictator. A quiet man with a three letter name, his mixed martial arts abilities and shooting skills have no acquisition explanation. Living through faith, inspiration and Christian do better unto others than yourself peaks as Washington turns down a prostitute but offers her food, drink and prayer before the meal.
Dangling more than the creaking, swinging ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge in the hurried, yet cinematic ironic, arrival on the West Coast are his near invulnerability and the Braille Good Book. I’d have liked a few more moments at Malcolm McDowell’s world’s end museum for unraveling cinematic and spiritual symbols.
Solara (Mila Kunis), Oldham’s unwanted stepdaughter, eventually inscribes ‘faith, hope, and bullets’ on her forehead as she’s about to be the female synergy that will rip the gender from its backlash to male chattels and objects for trafficking to a few steps back in equality’s direction. Of course, we have to imagine what will occur on her desert foray. Credits have rolled.
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