Synopsis: From Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country For Old Men, comes the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the beloved, best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road. An all-star cast are featured in this epic post-apocalyptic tale of the survival of a father and his young son as they journey across a barren America that was destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm. A masterpiece adventure, The Road boldly imagines a future in which men are pushed to the worst and the best that they are capable of – a future in which a father and his son are sustained by love.
The Road 8.0
eyelights: its realistic portrayal of a post-apocalyptic scenario.the boldness of the picture. the performances. the production. the music.
eyesores: the bleakness of the picture. the ending.
“I told the boy when you dream about bad things happening, it means you’re still fighting and you’re still alive. It’s when you start to dream about good things that you should start to worry.”
‘The Road’ is a 2009 motion picture based on the 2006 Pullitzer-prize winning novel by Joe Penhall. It tells the story of a father and son wandering about a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape, trying to survive. The whole picture is about their travels, the people they encounter, the challenges they surmount.
What makes it interesting is the fact that, although it takes place in the United States, much of the time we don’t really know where the characters are; with no sun and only scant people left, we have no point of reference. We aren’t even told our protagonists’ names, as they refer to each other as “son” and “papa”.
Even more unusual is the fact that the cause of this apocalypse is never identified. All we know is that all animals have died and that the planet is dying, with trees falling, littering the landscape. The only sign of life is the rare human being, and they are all reduced to shadows of their former civilized selves.
I love that there is so little that is established in ‘The Road’; unlike most other motion pictures, it doesn’t bother with awkward and unessential exposition. Instead, it roots us in a specific moment in time with our protagonists, letting us pick up what little we need to carry on our journey with them.
It’s a commendable approach because it doesn’t pander to audiences, doesn’t assume that they are dummies. And it’s smart because, by refusing to assign any back history to the people and events, it allows audiences to do it themselves, making it far more accessible. Man and Boy are every parent and child.
They are every human.
These two humans face the worst that anyone could possibly imagine: continued life in the face of endless death, a sort of living purgatory that can only be escaped by dying. But the human spirit wants to carry on, irrespective of the odds and the futility of the endeavour. There is no hope, but they push forward.
The world is cold, and getting colder: the sun has been blotted out, there is no power to keep the lights on and the heat going. There is little food: as nothing grows anymore, and all has rotted away well over a decade ago, they must scavenge for preserves wherever they can find them. And there is little left.
The father naturally is the vigilant one, the protector, the mentor. His intention is to teach his son to survive so that he may carry on when he is gone. And he soon will be: he is ill and they are both starving. He knows that his time is limited and his days consist of passing on his knowledge to his son.
But he also teaches his son how to take his own life should he be incapable of escaping a threat. It’s a terrible notion, for a parent to prepare for the death of a child, but it’s even worse when he must give him the instruments of his/her own self-destruction – and show how to use them. It’s disturbing to watch.
Even more disturbing is to see how vile the remnants of humanity are. Gangs are roaming the countryside, taking all they can find and killing those who are in their way. And with little food left over, some have turned to cannibalism, capturing people and trapping them for later use. It’s a terribly savage land.
And it’s infectious. Faced with constant threats to their survival, the father has become callous, considering only their survival above anyone else’s – to the point that the son needs growing reassurances that they are still the good guys, that they wouldn’t do the things that the others are doing.
It’s a difficult situation and director John Hillcoat doesn’t propose to give us any clear answers. He often leaves us uncertain, fading out before we can get resolution to some of the moral conflicts the characters face. He is unafraid to leave the weight of this world on our shoulders, making us ponder it all the more.
The performances are stunning. It’s mostly a two-person film, with a few essential exceptions to keep the pace going, and Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are absolutely brilliant in the parts. Mortensen, in particular, is completely immersed in his character and is wholly believable as this tough-as-nails survivor.
‘The Road’ is also stunning to look at, despite its dreariness. Shot on location across the United States and enhanced in post-production, it’s as accurate a representation of a dying world as one can get. It’s grey, black and brown, which is rather uninspiring, but every shot could be a postcard: Welcome to the Apocalypse.
How this picture didn’t win any awards is beyond me. Even its score is memorable, sad but beautiful, with the delicate touches of Nick Cave’s piano transcending the desolation as he tends do to so well. It contributed so much to the picture that I look forward to picking up the CD and listening to it by its lonesome.
Frankly, I don’t know if there is any subtext in ‘The Road’. If there is, I didn’t clue into it. But it was a memorable journey all its own. It’s not a lovely, uplifting picture (there is no Hollywood ending here), but it’s a remarkably poignant and realistic experience, one that should leave most audiences haunted.
I pray that we never ever have to go down that road ourselves.
Date of viewing: February 6, 2015