Religion and Language in Contemporary Film

The Popular Apocalyptic Genre and Film in Post-modern Cinema:

The Book of Eli
'The Book of Eli Movie Marquee'

Genre Introduction

  • Film might be the best medium to present creative images in which the surreal and bizarre appear as realism. Apocalyptic themes have long been a part of popular culture in the west and used to inform it's audiences through literature, art, music, as well as cinema. One of the difficulties in studying and comparing various apocalyptic media is the larger question of the definition of apocalyptic. This is compounded when attempting to make comparisons across cultures. The word apocalyptic in contemporary times is defined as "pertaining to the 'Revelation of St. John' in the New Testament," from Greek apokalyptikos, from apokalyptein. Meaning "pertaining to the imminent end of the world" evolved by 1880s [1] In 1979, the Apocalypse Group of the Society of Biblical Literature produced the following description of the genre of apocalypse, relating specifically to ancient apocalyptic writings: “Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by another worldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” [2] The biblical books of Daniel, entail the ascension of the son of man upon clouds to the earth, Ezekiel's vision of a craft from heaven using present day dialect, and John's Revelations, [3] which is an entire book dedicated to the end times, are the most well-known expressions of apocalyptic literature. By catagorizing or developing guidelines for many of societies complex films/themes, we come to understand the difference in our contemporary culture as opposed to traditional sacred views.


  • Dreams and or visions that reveal events associated with the end of the world.
  • Battles between good and evil.
  • Ultimate destruction or punishment of evil.
  • An ushering in of "God's" wisdom resulting in an overwhelming sense of elevation to a state of virtue.
  • Divine intervention or transformation allows and sanctifies the end history of the drama to be meaningful.


  • The credibility of the message, interpretive realist sci-fi, hinges on the authority of the writer. The intervention or transformation of the prophet as the one who delivers the divine word to the believers, the ones who correctly decode the symbolic language. In modern Christian apocalyptic literature, prophecy itself is thought of as finished; only interpretation remains. Yet the authority of the writer is still central. It is also important to note the interpretive method used in modern apocalyptic writings. The claim is that viewers/readers interpret the Bible literally. This also helps explain the realism of the modern apocalyptic form. Literal interpretations as one would expect should lead to realistic depictions of our world [4]

Summary of The Book of Eli

  • The contemporary film, The Book of Eli directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, The Internet Movie Database focuses on the protagonist and a violent thirty year quest through desert like wastelands of a cataclysmic war ravaged earth. His name is Eli, and he carries a unique book. It is no coincidence that his name (Elijah) is the same as that of one of the Old Testament prophets. In the movie, Eli has a dream sent to him from God that tells him where to find the last surviving copy of the Bible. Once found, he is instructed to "take it West." He is also promised that no harm shall befall him while he is on this quest. This is very similar to the Biblical prophet Elijah.
  • Interesting to note- The Old Testament includes the story of Elijah, in Kings 1 19:1 [5] However, all of the Major Prophets have their own books. The Book of Elijah is a middle eastern text that was discovered in 1743, and is considered an Apocryphal book. University of Connecticut
  • Elijah also spends many months wandering the deserts of the Middle East on God's mission, and to evade capture by the kings whom he has angered with his prophecies. There are other similarities. Both Eli and Elijah's journeys end at the water's edge. Eli reaches the city of San Francisco, while Elijah's journey ended at the edge of the river Jordan. Eli, after orally transmitting the Bible that he has memorized after 30 years of reading it, dies from a gunshot wound to his stomach, while Elijah, like Enoch, is taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Eli also becomes immortal due to the fact that the people living in San Francisco print the Bible in multiple copies to be handed out amongst the survivors of the nuclear war. The second striking similarity is that both Eli and Elijah be-friend acolytes (Eli, Solara the daughter of the blind woman, Claudia lover of the man who took the Bible from him, and Elijah, Elisha who inherits his robe and powers after Elijah is taken up to heaven) who eventually carry on their missions.
  • In The Book of Eli there are two very interesting symbolic twists; the first, the Bible that Eli finds is written in Braille, the language of the blind. After the nuclear (bright blinding lights) war, much of the population goes blind. Eli, during the thirty years he has possession of the Bible, has learned Braille, yet he never loses his sight. When the Bible is taken from him, the only person who can read it, the blind mother of the acolyte following Eli, refuses to do so for the antagonist of the film (who is representative of the kings of the Old Testament who oppose Elijah), leaving him and his empire to crumble, just as Elijah left the kings in the Bible to fall after winning a competition against their Canaanite gods.
  • The other symbolic twist is at the very end of the film. Eli, who is very ill from sepsis and dying, lays next to the transcriber on a cushioned mat, dressed all in white much like a Muslim Imam as he passes on the oral tradition of the Bible, much as Muhammad received the Quran orally from Gabriel, and then before dying orally recites it for his wife to transcribe the Quran into words.
  • Also, as Eli's acolyte stands at his grave, the camera shows a close up of a white flower with a yellow center that adorns Eli's grave. This flower can be found in many paintings and frescos done by artists of the Islamic Mughal Empire of India, the most powerful and successful of all Muslim empires. The movie, with these two scenes, attempts to merge the beliefs of Islam and Judeo-Christianity with symbology. Muslims believe that all three books; the Quran, the Old and New Testament, derive from one great Holy book in Heaven.
  • A distinction must be made here. Films and books dealing with end of the world scenarios fall into two categories; man-made secular and non-secular containing religious themes or symbology. Even though the premise of the movie is a man-made secular "end of the world" scenario, all of these symbols; Eli's name, the acolyte, the protagonist ruler of the town, the last remaining Bible as the focal "Holy Grail," and the Islamic imagery, combine to place the film in the apocalyptic genre.
  • The film ends with Eli's acolyte walking back to the east to continue Eli's work as a prophet, possibly with a copy of the newly printed Bible, just as Elisha, the acolyte of Elijah, became a prophet for Yahweh. At the heart of this film is the message that, the "word" (good news, New Testament) passed down through oral tradition is just as or more important than the written word. It is a film that takes us to the future to show us our religious connections with the ancient past, bringing the message of God full circle, using language and visual symbology to accomplish this. It contains both secular and non-secular themes. However, the religious theme is the over-riding message, which places the film in the literature Apocalyptic genre.

Suggested Apocalyptic Films

  • The Omega Code, 1999 [1]
  • Megiddo, 2001 [2]
  • The Left Behind Series, 2000, 2005 [3]

Secular Definitions (Quick View)

  • Exclusions of the supernatural as a means of action for destruction.
  • Inclusion of a variety of other means, i.e., aliens, disease, chance or humanity itself.

Suggested Secular Films

  • The Matrix, 1999 [4]
  • I Am Legend, 2007 [5]
  • Sunshine, 2007 [6]
  • 12 Monkeys, 1995 [7]
  • Waterworld, 1995 [8] The film Waterworld, is a secular apocalyptic film. Global warming is responsible for a world wide portrayal of destruction to dry land that has been completely replaced by ocean. Human activity created the problem, but human activity also endures to solve the problem. The search for a paradise is realized and a rediscovery of a new earth is made. This film contains the elements of the traditional apocalypse but humanity is labeled as sacred instead of any divine intervention.



Official Movie Website, including Trailer [9]

Theme song for The Book of Eli [10]


  2. Collins 9
  3. Desai, Brief critical essay
  4. Wesley J. Bergen
  5. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha



Bergin, Wesley J. "The New Apocalyptic: Modern American Apocalyptic Fiction and its Ancient and Modern Cousins." Wichita State University Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. 20: 2008.

Collins, John J. “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre.” Semeia 14: 1-20. 1979.

Desai, Jenny. "The End of the World as we Know it: Apostles Avow." Science & Spirit 18.1 (2007): 65. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 June 2010

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