Two Movies on Spiritual Leadership – Cromwell, Book of Eli


It is always an impressive feat when a movie delivers amazing production, high quality acting, action, a deep underlying philosophy to undergird the plot AND a deep spiritual underpinning.  

Two movies, one recent and one older in origin, stick out in my mind as great works that inspire the spiritual person to greater discipline and leadership in one’s own life.

The older movie is Cromwell, 1970, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness.  The story chronicles Oliver Cromwell’s opposition to a King who does not listen to the will of the people through Parliament.  Alec Guinness, as Cromwell, does an amazing job delivering faith filled speeches throughout the film.  Not only does his belief inform his leadership of an army rebelling against King Charles’ unjust actions concerning land, and the changes to the Church of England.  While Oliver comes off a bit self-righteous at some points according to modern standards, it is nice that he has standards and justifies them.  He is also the archetype of the leader who does not want to lead.  He is thrust forward by circumstance and despite the desire to retire to a common life, Oliver is thrust into history by great events.  Though the movie and its costumes are all 1970’s level, the underlying principles are solid and the acting is superb.  The musical score is beautiful as well, full of tones denoting the importance of the time period.  For anyone who is persevering in a leadership role and trying to integrate their faith into everyday life – this is highly recommended.  And great for retro appeal. Modern movie goers may recognize Alec Guinness as the Emperor at the beginning of the film Gladiator, or the first Dumbledore in the Harry Potter Series.  

The more recent film is The Book of Eli, 2010 film by the Hughes brothers starring Denzel Washington.  The film is about a post-apocalyptic world of the future after a supposedly religious war that ends in nuclear obliteration of civilization.  Eli is a man who is traveling west to the California coast, despite warnings that there is nothing out there, to preserve a King James Bible, which he received supernaturally after being lead to it by a spiritual voice.  The main antagonist is Carnegie, the leader of a town with a clean water supply and a small military force, who wishes to expand his townships and create a small “kingdom” (my words, not the movies).  He is a literate man but is basically a dictator in the tradition of Musselini, Hitler or Stalin.  He wishes to have absolute power by any means possible and desires the Bible for the words in order to control the hearts of the people.  Having watched this a couple times now, there are many twists and turns – it is incredibly gritty (expect a high level of violence, alluded to cannibalism and basic survival battles).  But Eli acts much like one would expect a person of faith to behave. He makes mistakes, but keeps moving.  He prays, he teaches others the word of God if he sees their receptivity, and he survives when he needs to.  The rise of Eli and the degeneration of those who do evil is a pervasive theme in this movie.  For anyone who wishes to watch a film of spiritual perseverance even in times of great evil and survival ethics – this is a film to watch.  

Both of these films hit me in a deep way. I’ve watched them both several times and find new facets each time.  Each time I am inspired and come to it differently (because I have grown a bit and bring more to the interpretation of the film) than before.  These are great films to watch on your own, or with a group of theological/philosophical friends who would converse deeply afterwards.  A religion and leadership club in college would do well to discuss these films.   Enjoy.


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