In a violent post-apocalyptic society, a drifter, Eli (Denzel Washington), has been wandering westward across North America for the last thirty years. He finds solace in a unique book which he carries on his person and guards closely, while surviving by hunting small animals and seeking goods in destroyed houses and vehicles to trade in villages for water and supplies. When he reaches a village ruled by the powerful mobster, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the man views Eli's impressive fighting skills and offers Eli a place within his gang. Carnegie presses his blind lover Claudia (Jennifer Beals) to send her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), to at least convince Eli to spend the night by sleeping with him. However, Eli proves to be the better man when he gently declines her advances. The girl sees Eli's book, and when Carnegie finds out he beats her mother until she reveals what she saw. Carnegie sends his gang into the wasteland to take the book from Eli, but the man proves to be a formidable foe as he makes it more than clear that if they want the book, they must first take his life.