The Book of Eli and Cannibalism in Movies: a New Trend?

A film of fiction and reality where people find themselves in radical situations, guided solely by their instinct of survival.

Newsdesk (03/08/2022 15:20, Gaudium Press) In 2010, Hollywood released a film called “The Book of Eli”, whose plot shows what is left of the world 30 years after a nuclear war: hunger, chaos, destruction and battles over water and food.  Eli, an enigmatic man, crosses the country alone, on foot, carrying a rare book, which he is willing to defend with his life.

Although the film was shot more than a decade ago, I will not give spoilers about the character Eli, played by actor Denzel Washington, nor about the book, which is the central element of the narrative, after all, by reading this article, someone may feel curious to see the film, still available in a popular streaming, but, I can not evade talking about one of the impacting scenes.

Influence of Media and Art

This week, I received, from different sources, a piece about cannibalism, published by The New York Times, on July 24th. The keynote was the rise of the subject of “cannibalism” in books and films; an apparent attempt to understand this phenomenon, albeit in a shallow and unassertive manner, perhaps a simple ploy to attract readers by highlighting the assertion that “cannibalism has a time and place”, and that it could happen now.

In this world we live in, in the face of all the aberrations and absurdities we witness, nothing is to be doubted anymore, and we know how the media and art are able to influence behaviour and change the course of society. So, if the theme of people eating other people has been insistently inserted in films, books and other media we consume, it is good to be aware of this.

“Come on, how silly!” some may say, claiming that we have dozens of films about vampires and zombies and that this has never become a reality. No? Take a walk through the central streets of São Paulo and observe the look and behaviour of the crack users. About vampirism and other horror movies, do some serious research on the amount of demonic possession that has occurred in recent decades.

About cannibalism, we have one of the most acclaimed suspense films in the history of cinema: “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), based on the work of the American writer Thomas Harris, which tells the story of Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist and cannibal killer. Ten years later, Anthony Hopkins played the same character again in the film “Hannibal” (the name meaning “belonging to Baal”, a demonic entity worshipped by the Phoenicians and by part of the Hebrew people, under the influence of Queen Jezebel, which was strongly opposed by the prophet Elijah).

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These, and other films of the genre, deal with psychopaths, but the film The Book of Eli is different and fits better with the content of the controversial text of The New York Times. In his odyssey, trying to protect the book he is carrying and reach his destination, Eli and the young woman who accompanies him are welcomed by an elderly couple who, despite living in a semi-destroyed house in the middle of nowhere, treat them very well and even offer them tea. And it is exactly at this moment that Eli becomes suspicious of the generosity of the two when he notices that they tremble when holding the teacups, a characteristic sign of people who have eaten human flesh.

This is not an article to talk about cinema, but we cannot fail to recognize the influence of art on people’s lives and, often, what is shown in novels, films, paintings and music, ends up being a harbinger of many events.


Ashley Lyle, one of the authors quoted by The New York Times article, co-producer of the “Yellowjackets” series, which tackles the subject of cannibalism, says: “I think we’re obviously in a very strange time,” mentioning the pandemic, climate change, school shootings and political problems to justify her impression.

Although repugnant, cannibalism exists outside books and the cinema and TV screens. In Germany in 2002, a man named Armin Meiwes confessed to murdering and eating a young man he met through a bizarre ad he placed on the internet. In the ad, he said he was looking for a strong, robust person aged between 18 and 30 to be “eaten by him”. Worse than his proposal is the fact that it was accepted! An engineer from Berlin, Bernd Jurgen Armando Brandes, agreed to the strange offer to be eaten.

According to Meiwes’ statement to the police, the young man volunteered and before the murder they had intercourse. He then severed the young man’s private part, sliced and fried it, and they both ate it together until Brandes lost consciousness. Then he killed him, butchered and froze the flesh, eating most of it over ten months. Meiwes was a quiet person who did not arouse any suspicion and his crime was only discovered because he posted another ad of the same tenor and a student who saw the ad notified the police. The officers went to Meiwes’ house and found parts of the engineer’s body and the videotape with the detailed recording of the crime. He confessed as if it was an absolutely normal thing to do and made a point of stressing that Brandes consented to everything and that he even said a prayer for his soul before slitting his throat.

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Forgive me for explicitly writing such bizarre things, but this event is a reality of the world we live in and there are many others, equal or worse than this one. I will stick to this case, it is enough to cause disgust and horror.

The practice of cannibalism is present in the history of humanity. Even in Brazil there were indigenous tribes who were fond of consuming human flesh. There are reports of an Amazonian tribe that had a fattening system to improve the flesh of their prisoners who would be devoured. 

Anthropology is full of examples of peoples for whom eating the flesh of their enemies was a cultural matter, and they believed that by eating an opposing warrior they acquired his strength and skills.

Apart from these cases, which refer to the primitive culture of certain peoples, and mentally unbalanced people like the German Armin Meiwes or the fictitious Dr. Hannibal, the practice of cannibalism, in extreme cases, may become a possibility, even if it hurts our whole notion of ethics and civility.

When I think of the couple in the film “Eli’s Book” who trembled while holding their tea cups, I do not see sadistic psychopaths or ancient warriors devouring their adversaries to become stronger and more skillful. I just see an elderly couple, people like any of us, remnants of a nuclear catastrophe that destroyed the planet, doing what they could in an inhospitable land to ensure their own survival. Obviously, this is fiction, but if we take this fiction for reality, they certainly did not wake up one sunny morning and plan to become devourers of human flesh, nor did they advertise on the internet for that purpose.

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In 1972, survivors of a plane crash over the Andes Mountains, after a long time in the snow, in a place of difficult access, without hope of help, succumbed to the possibility of eating the flesh of one of the crash victims, something similar to what the series “Yellowjackets” shows. In both cases, fiction and reality show how far human beings can go in radical situations, when guided only by their instinct of survival.

Divine Intervention

What should call our attention is that there is a war going on, involving two of the largest producers of grains and agricultural inputs in the world. Between one news item and another, one entertainment and another, we are gradually coming to grips with a worldwide food supply crisis. And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year, a nuclear war has become a much closer possibility than world leaders – and every one of us – would like.

On August 1st, officials from around the world gathered in New York for the Tenth Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. What will the world – or what will be left of it – look like if World War III occurs? Who will survive? What will those who survive have to submit to? I prefer to think that, although humanity is heading towards the abyss, God will intervene, Our Lady will sustain us and things will not be as bad as the chaotic post-apocalyptic world faced by Eli.

The world is dominated by error and sin and men seem to take pleasure in outraging God. Let us do penance, let us pray, let us make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that God may have mercy on us and not let us reach such a calamity. Meanwhile, let us be attentive, after all, as the ancients used to say, that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and, if we are not attentive, we may end up induced to unimaginable things.

By Afonso Pessoa

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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