In The Book of Eli, Eli (Denzel Washington) is an action hero in a desert world, but how he got his fighting powers is never explained. The post-apocalyptic world seems to be there just to show the audience what a hero this Eli is. He is silent and distant and has a big knife, and is the protector of the last Bible in the world. God told him to go west and so he slashes his way forward through the ranks of evil boss Gary Oldman, who wants to have this book so he can control the masses around him.
The movie is a bit of a moral jumble, where the Bible is simultaneously good and bad and I guess the message is that belief can be used for both good and bad. But at the same time it is somehow acceptable that this Eli is violent and distant, to protect it. Now and then it rubbed me the wrong way. The story is replete with clichés and the ending is overwrought. Still this movie has a lot going for it. It has style and a bit of dark humor and it is always a pleasure to see Oldman playing a maniac.
The Road, an adaptation of the book by Cormac McCarthy, is the bleakest and most depressing post-apocalyptic movie I have seen so far. It is one of those movies that is quite beautiful but you never want to see it again. The movie has so few colors that it is almost black and white. The story isn’t about some post-apocalyptic hero who is untouchable in this new world, like Eli from The Book of Eli, or Mad Max or some Kevin Costner hero. It is about a regular man and his son, who he tries to protect. The boy grew up in this ravaged world and has no memories of the world before, when everything was good. His father reads him stories of how it was before the bombs fell.
Their daily lives revolve around food. Food and cold and a grey world of snow, ash and dead trees. In tense moments when they are in danger from gangs of armed men, the thought of suicide is never far away. If The Book of Eli is an action/dark comedy version of the post-apocalyptic story, then The Road is the harsh, real and philosophical variant. Flashbacks to the past, to the time when his wife was still there, have a warmer tone.
It is a kind of desperation the viewer can wallow in. Both movies give us pictures of a destroyed landscape that are perfectly horrifying and fantastically miserable. It is the destruction of the world as a form of art. The Road succeeds in this much more than The Book of Eli does. Like its characters and story, The Book of Eli overdoes the bleakness by pumping up the contrast, making shadows darker and the land a dry surface with bright orange colors. The Road is grey and cold, with more impressive views of dead forests and empty roads.
Overall, The Road is the better movie. It has little plot, but at the heart lies the relationship between the father and his son and therefore it is intense and personal, but also a bit slow. If you go for action and less depressing eye-candy, The Book of Eli is very satisfying.