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Gary Whitta on The Book of Eli

Published January 12, 2010 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Bros
Book of Eli Poster Book of Eli
Most post-apocalyptic thrillers are about survival. The Book of Eli could be about the joy of reading. Eli is protecting a valuable book which the evil Carnegie wants to use to control his illiterate people. Screenwriter Gary Oldman didn’t think about that, but he likes it.

Gary Whitta Talks Book of Eli

“You know, I think in some way it is,” Whitta said. “I never really thought about it consciously like that. There is definitely a moment at the end of the film, there’s a scene where you see someone reading the book and their face just lights up. That was always in the script. We’ve seen 100 of these movies where food is scarce and basic survival things are scarce, and that’s true in this movie too. But the idea here was that there are other things that are almost more important than that. Like what’s the point in living day to day and surviving if there isn’t anything beyond that? So knowledge, culture, literature, that’s what I always felt was very important, that at the end of the movie that we felt like it was kind of triumph of not necessarily faith or any belief system but of academia and knowledge and preservation of what makes us who we are.”

They also have some fun with the idea of what books would be important in that situation. “There’s a scene, I think it may have been taken out in the final cut but there was a scene in the script where Carnegie’s going through the books that are useless to him because there’s only one that he’s interested in. They burn the remainders and it’s like, ‘No, don’t do that. Those are so precious now.’”

You’ll also recognize the modern best sellers as remnants of the wasteland, like The Da Vinci Code. “Yeah, because you figure that’s everywhere. I think at one point we were going to do Harry Potter almost as an in joke just for Gary [Oldman] as well because you think what are the books that are most prevalent. The books that I put, because I specified the books, one was How to Win Friends and Influence People. It may have been that. It was in the script, I don't know if it’s in the final movie. I love the face that he threw in a copy of Oprah magazine. One book that I specified that I know they kept was I had Carnegie reading a biography of Mussolini because I felt like that was the kind of person that he felt he wanted to be, someone that could motivate and control the masses.”

The film has its share of fight scenes, chases and shootouts, but it really hopes to make you think. In fact, the climax of the movie is intellectual, continuing 15 minutes past the last action set piece.

“It’s incredibly gratifying for me to hear you say that because that’s exactly what I wanted. I could talk all day about one of the big ideas of the movie was the idea of doing a movie that had intellectual stakes. It’s not that the future of the world is at stake, although you could argue that in some way it is. We went out of our way to make sure that, even though it says it kind of in the trailers, we never in the movie say that this book is the future of civilization. We leave that for people to hopefully debate and argue about. We made it very clear that the fate of the book at the end is kind of a neutral one. It’s kind of almost like Raiders of the Lost Ark where it just kind of goes into the warehouse.”

The ideas may be so strong that the filmmakers expect, if not hope, that the film becomes controversial. “[The Hughes Brothers] came to me and said, ‘This is not a film they’re just going to be talking about on At the Movies or the film press. This is going to be on CNN. This is going to be on Fox News. This is going to spark a debate.' I kind of keep my own thoughts to myself because I want to encourage people to think their own thing. But I think any time you go into this sphere, people are going to have a lot to say. I think for that reason, whether people think the movie is good or bad or they believe in the message they’ve interpreted from the movie, it’s going to get people talking which I think any time you do that, you’ve had some kind of success.”

The Book of Eli opens to theaters January 15th.

For the trailers, stills, posters and more movie info, go to the The Book of Eli Movie Page.
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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros

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