One of the driving forces in our lives is to find our purpose. Our ‘higher calling’, or something that motivates us to get up in the morning and do something. We all have a longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives our lives meaning, comfort, and hope. These themes along with faith, perseverance and love are explored in the wonderful movie The Book of Eli.
Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers about the movie The Book of Eli. If you have not watched The Book of Eli, please do so before reading this post. It’s wonderful and well worth your time. You can read the other posts in the Marketing and Movies series here.
The Book of Eli centers on a man named Eli (played by Denzel Washington). Eli lives in a post-apocalyptic world. At first, we know very little about Eli, the world he is living in, or his purpose. As the movie progresses, we learn from Eli that sometime before the movie is set, nuclear war happened, and in order to survive, people like Eli went underground to avoid radiation contamination. The planet was devastated, and the majority of earth was turned into a wasteland. Clean water for drinking and bathing is now a prized commodity, one that Eli, along with everyone else in the movie is desperately seeking.
Eli’s purpose in the movie is revealed to us gently. At first, we are simply told that Eli has the single-minded purpose of going west. Later, we learn that Eli has in his possession a King James Bible. Eli enters a town and while there, the owner of the town, Carnegie, discovers this fact as well, and asks Eli to give him the Bible. Eli refuses, and Carnegie instructs his henchmen to kill Eli.
A huge gunfight ensues, that sees Carnegie’s henchmen shoot Eli multiple times, but the bullets inexplicably miss Eli, or seem to be deflected off him. At the same time, Eli seems to have almost supernatural precision in his shooting, killing the entire gang in just a few shots. Eli leaves the gang in the streets, and continues out of town.
Outside of town, a girl from the town named Solara meets up with Eli. Solara is the daughter of Carnegie’s mistress, Claudia. Eli tells her to go back to her mom, his journey is too dangerous for her. She says she will take Eli to find water if she can go with him. Eli never agrees, but follows Solara to a nearby spring. Eli gets all the water he can carry, then locks Solara in the spring. He reminds her that his journey is too dangerous for her, and leaves her.
Solara later escapes the spring, but instead of going back to her town, she continues after Eli. As she is traveling, she comes across a woman screaming for help. She goes to help the woman, but as soon as the woman sees that Solara is also a woman, she panics and begs her to leave immediately. Solara does not, and a group of bikers come out and attack Solara. Just as they are about to subdue Solara, Eli finds them and kills the group before they could assault Solara. Now Eli has no choice but to let Solara join him on his journey.
They continue west, and the next night they rest at a long abandoned nuclear plant. There, Eli explains more about the Bible. He says that one day he heard the voice of God in his head. God told him to go to a spot, and that he would find the Bible there. God told Eli to take the Bible, and to ‘go west’. Eli explains that God told him that He would protect him on his journey. It turns out, this is the last Bible in existence, but Eli still doesn’t know why he is taking it ‘out west’, just that God told him to, and that’s enough for him. Solara is stunned that Eli would do all this for a book, and would ‘go west’ based on simple faith.
Eli and Solara continue west, but Carnegie also continues to track them. Eventually, Carnegie finds Eli and Solara, and takes the Bible from Eli, and then shoots him. Carnegie kidnaps Solara, then heads back to his town with Solara.
Along the way back to his town, Solara is able to attack the driver of the truck that’s carrying her, and she takes over the vehicle and heads back toward the house where Eli was shot. Carnegie’s driver tells him that they have just enough gas to make it back to his town, so Carnegie decides to let Solara go.
Carnegie returns to his town, and gives the Bible to the engineer to open. The Bible has a large gold lock on it. At the same time, Solara returns to the house where Eli was shot, and finds that he’s gone. Solara starts driving past the house, and after some time she encounters Eli walking down the road. She asks him where he is going and he says “West. Gotta go west”. So Solara continues to drive Eli west. Eventually, they come to the Golden Gate bridge. The bridge’s middle section is destroyed, so they start rowing a boat across the water and eventually come to Alcatraz Prison.
Back in town, Carnegie has opened the Bible, only to discover that he cannot read it. There’s a good reason why he can’t. And in the process, he also discovers something amazing about Eli:
Eli and Solara enter the prison facility, and the person running it informs them that they have a vast library and a printing press. Eli informs the man that he has a copy of the King James Bible. Then Eli proceeds to dictate the entire Bible to the man, as he meticulously records his every word. Once the process is finished, the printing press can then begin to print copies of the King James Bible, for the first time since they were destroyed during the nuclear war. This was Eli’s mission from God.
The movie implies that Eli died soon after his copy of the Bible was transcribed. Eli quotes 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The Book of Eli and the Secret of Great Marketing
For almost two decades I have consulted companies on their marketing strategies. One of the core teachings I try to stress to clients is that you aren’t marketing a product, you are marketing how your product fits into my life. Your goal as a marketer should be to make sure I understand the impact that your product will have on my life.
Because at the end of the day, our material possessions aren’t what drive us and give us happiness. It’s something bigger than that. It’s our experiences, our accomplishments.
It’s the life we live.
Throughout the movie, we watch as Solara reacts to understanding what Eli is doing, and why he is doing it. At first she experiences disbelief, and views Eli’s trek out west as being ridiculous. But later as she learns more about what Eli is doing, and witnesses firsthand his dedication to his journey, her disbelief gives way to awe, and finally to admiration.
At one point early on in the movie, Solara laments that her town is corrupt and people are being hurt, as an appeal to Eli for him to leave his mission and stay in the town and help them. Eli simply responds “Then change it” and continues west.
The movie ends with Solara paying her respects to Eli at his gravesite. She then turns on his music player, picks up his weapon, and begins her own journey, back to her town. Eli had a mission from God to perform, and in performing that mission, he also inspired Solara to find her own calling, her own mission.
Your calling as a marketer is to lead your customers to live better, more fulfilling lives. Selling products is a byproduct of that, not the goal. The marketing goal is to market how your product fits into the lives of your customers, how it makes their lives better and more meaningful.