The Book of Eli

Post Apocalyptic Character Analysis

I don't usually focus on a single character like this, but The Rad-Lands did a piece on Lord Humungus from Mad Max 2 (found here) and it got me thinking about what post apocalyptic character has stood out for me. Funnily enough, it's not a protagonist and it's not even a primary antagonist, it's actually a side character. 

Redridge, from The Book of Eli, is the right hand man of a small town tyrant known as Carnegie. He starts out looking like your usual end-of-the-world thug, he's bigger than most others and not overly intelligent so he probably just fell into the role. By the fact that he's the right hand man of the movie's villain, you know straight away that he's not a good guy by any stretch. We see this in the fact that he's perfectly fine with the way things are being run in this violent town, he's happy to kill people and even executes fellow underlings when they fail. It seems like he's content with being Carnegie's second.

Here is his, literally standing at the bosses right side.

Here is his, literally standing at the bosses right side.

When the protagonist, Eli, comes to town though, things start to change. While Redridge is a man of violence, Eli is both a holy man and death incarnate. Even someone as simple as Redridge picks up on the fact that there's something special about Eli, it seems like every bullet fired actually wants to miss him. After a brief shoot out in the main street, Redridge has Eli dead to rights but chooses to let him go. It isn't revealed if this is because he's already figured out that he'd probably miss, even with a clear shot, or if he's simply chosen to let Eli live. The point is, he doesn't shoot.

A man of violence lowers his weapon, the first signs of a change.

A man of violence lowers his weapon, the first signs of a change.

The movie makes it pretty clear that there's more to this guy than simply being a brutish thug who hurts people for a living. He's actually got a crush on the Carnegie's daughter, Solara, and seeing as he's spent most of his life being violent he doesn't really know how to interact with her or express his attraction to her. He playfully steps in her way while she's out on errands, then quickly steps back when he realizes that he's misjudged how she'd react to this. He was young when the world ended, so he probably never even finished school, and despite his size he's still operating as someone with a primary school education at best.

He's like a big, dumb dog.

He's like a big, dumb dog.

Despite being uneducated, and not knowing how to express himself properly, he still cares for Solara and wants to be with her. When he sees an opportunity to secure her, he makes a deal with Carnegie. He's too immature to realize that Solara could never love a man like him, but he's just so infatuated with her that he doesn't even see this. He just wants her, and he comes up with a plan to get her and keep her safe. He plans to capture Eli for Carnegie, if Carnegie will let him have Solara.

Redridge and Carnegie chase Eli and Solara across the radioactive wasteland of the former United States, and eventually capture the pair as they share some tea with a couple of delightful cannibals. Redridge has given Carnegie what he wants and as promised, he is given Solara in return. He finally gets what he's wanted for the longest time, but even he's picking up on the fact that none of it feels right. 

Solara looks pissed, but Redridge doesn't exactly look happy about the situation either...

Solara looks pissed, but Redridge doesn't exactly look happy about the situation either...

Solara has spent the entire movie growing as a character, she's gone from a terrified prostitute to an absolute badass, so by this point she's more than ready to show Redridge exactly what she thinks of this whole situation. She strangles the driver of the vehicle they're all in, and it ends up flipping before rolling down the highway. 

Just as Solara is about to make her escape, we see that Redridge is still alive despite being impaled by a machete. Now... he could try to kill her out of revenge, seeing as she pretty much just killed him, but instead he pulls the machete out of his chest and exits the car. He had Solara, but instead of holding onto her he chose to let her go.

Yeah, that's gotta hurt.

Yeah, that's gotta hurt.

In a scene that made the The Book of Eli a favorite of mine, a dying Redridge kneels down on the ground and takes his goggles off. He looks up at the sky, and smiles, before his head slumps down. It's a scene that's enough to give both Solara and Carnegie pause, it's like they're bearing witness to something divine. This man of violence chose not to rely on violence at the very end. By changing his ways before it was too late he seems to not only have had some kind of revelation, but also found peace.

That's the face of a man who's found redemption.

That's the face of a man who's found redemption.

Redridge is left kneeling on the side of the road, like a man who's died in prayer. 

The symbolism is as sutble as a sledgehammer...

The symbolism is as sutble as a sledgehammer...

The whole story arc really spoke to me, not only because I myself am a rather large gentleman who has often had trouble interacting with tiny women, but because of the extra depth that was added to a character that could've been easily ignored. In a movie that is all about faith, this background character was given a pivotal role in supporting the film's overall theme.  

Redridge taking his goggles off at the end was a great piece of symbolism, showing that he was no longer blinded by earthly distractions. He has his goggles off at other times during the film, but this is always when he's indoors where he's shrouded in darkness. While the goggles are still on his vision is occluded by the darkness of Carnegie's influence, but he manages to strip them away at the very end and see the light. The symbolism works really well when the twist about Eli is revealed.

Redridge - the evil henchman who found redemption in death.

Redridge - the evil henchman who found redemption in death.

I get that Redridge wanting to own Solara isn't a healthy relationship at all, even if he genuinely wanted to look after her, but I think that even he'd figured that out in the end. He was a bad guy, yes, but he was a bad guy that found redemption. It's a story that has stuck with me since I first saw The Book of Eli at the cinema, and even after all these years I still want to know what Redridge learned in his final moments. What, or who, did he see? What made him so serene in the face of death?

Hope in the Post Apocalypse

The thing with post apocalyptic fiction is that, by its very nature, it's depressing as all hell. The whole world has ended, lives have been torn asunder, and depending on the scenario there could be zombies or radiation or aliens or plagues to deal with for the foreseeable future. You're generally in for a bleak time when you get into a post apocalyptic story. What kind of people actively seek out stories that are inherently dark, dreary, dismal and depressing? Well... that's a discussion for another day. 

The thing is though, all the best post apocalyptic stories know how to balance this bleak narrative with a spark of hope. Because as much as the world could possibly suck after it's ended, there has to be the possibility of things getting better one day. You can drag the audience through the shit and mud, and even kill their favorite characters, but at the very end there has to at least be the possibility that things will get better... someday. 

In The Road, the Man and The Boy face months of hardship as they journey south, trying to find a warmer climate to survive in. They come across cannibals, roaming bands of marauders and (in the book) they even come across a woman who gives birth to a child and then cooks it straight away... their journey is harrowing, to say the least. The Man is clearly sick, and after a short and pointless skirmish with some other travelers he is injured and after a while he can't travel any further. The Man dies, and just when it looks like the Boy will be left on his own in this bleakest of worlds - a whole family approaches him, and asks him to join them. 

The Boy meets the Motherly Woman.

The Boy meets the Motherly Woman.

In The Book of Eli, Eli has traveled across the irradiated ruins of the United States, guided by faith alone. He's been beaten and shot, he's dying, but with the help of Solara he's able to finally reach his destination. It looks like it's all been for naught, he lost what he was meant to bring with him, but it turns out he's carried it for so long that he knows it's every facet by heart. He dies, having finally completed his mission. And Solara, changed by her journey with Eli, sets out to return home, ready to be the change she's always wanted in the world.

Eli and Solara cross the water to their final destination - Alcatrasz. 

Eli and Solara cross the water to their final destination - Alcatrasz. 

In 28 Days Later, Jim woke up from a coma to find a world overrun with rage zombies (yeah, The Walking Dead totally stole the whole coma intro idea from 28 Days Later.) His family is dead, he's made friends and lost them and he's seen, and become, the worst that humanity has to offer. In an attempt to save the last of his friends, he's gravely wounded and it looks like he might die. In the last scene however, we see them all living peacefully together in the countryside and as a plane flies overhead we see Jim smile, despite it all. 

Pretty happy for a dude who lives in a world full of rage-infected zombies...

Pretty happy for a dude who lives in a world full of rage-infected zombies...

Finally, we come to The Divide. New York gets nuked and a bunch of people cram in to a fallout shelter under an apartment building. What follows is 122 minutes of the bleakest shit you've ever seen. The characters are trapped down in that bunker and they turn into monsters, they kill and rape one another, and as a few of them get radiation poising they all start physically decaying as well. Eventually the protagonist manages to escape the bunker into the outside world, and just when you think things might start to look better.

Nope.

Nope.

We see the gray and crumbling ruins of the New York cityscape, with not another living thing in sight. She's finally escaped that little hell beneath the ground, only to discover that there's absolutely nothing above the surface... and then the film just ends. We get this defeated look upon her face and then the credits start rolling. It's absolutely crushing. I clearly love post apocalyptic fiction and I don't mind watching a movie again every few years, but I seriously doubt I have the emotional stamina to get through The Divide a second time. It's just so goddamn draining! 

And that's the thing, there has to be some kind of release. You can't put audience through the painful and oftentimes uncomfortable experience of a depressing story without at least giving them some kind of emotional pay off at the end. If the characters have managed to get all the way past the flesh eating corpses, past the mutated dogs, through the quagmire of radiation and beyond the death robots, then they have to find some sort of oasis that makes the whole fucking journey worth it. Not only for themselves, but for the audience as well. 

Even if they die at the end, they have to die for a purpose that has meaning. Because at the end of the story, the journey has to have been worth it.