In spite of its rather depressing subject matter and its bleak outlook on most of humanity, The Road manages to be an insightful, relevant, entertaining and important film which will not only hook you from the opening moments but will cause you to do something that most movies released these days do not: Think. Based on the Cormac McCarthy best selling and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, adapted by Joe Penhall and directed by John Hillcoat, the film follows the journey of a father and son making their way to supposed safety in “The South” after an unknown disaster destroys most of humanity and reduces the world to snow and ash covered ruin.
Along the way the father and son encounter the worst of society reduced to ruin and come to realize that they may never reach safety and that that safety may, in fact, not even exist. The dynamic between the father and son is meticulously explored with both Viggo Moretnsen and relative newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee giving standout performances. Mortensen is brilliant and physically transformed to inhabit his role and Smit-McPee takes what could have been a two dimensional role and infuses it with depth and courage well beyond his years. Looking at him as he progresses and his character evolves before your eyes, you experience what this journey must be like for him and how his relationship with his father changes during the course of it.
Along the way, the dynamic shifts as son becomes more like father protector and father becomes more like son. Through it all, they come to realize that all they have to rely on is each other and that any stranger is a potential threat, no matter how benign they may seem or no matter how much they may need food, water or shelter. Its impressive to watch the relationship between these two characters. Even with the world around them descending further and further into chaos with society’s rules completely out the window, these two people are sustained along their journey by one thing this apocalypse can’t take from them: love.
As romanticized as that may seem, that emotion is at the core of this film. Even with everything they have endured: the world’s virtual destruction, death, attempted murder and even the threat of cannibalism, the love these to characters have for each other keeps what could otherwise be a very depressing and, in some ways, unwatchable film, very watchable indeed.
Another element this film has going for it is what many films lack these days, unpredictability — especially if you haven’t read the novel. It is nearly impossible to determine which way the story may go. Sure, the characters are heading South, but to what? And why? Their reasons in the film, that its warm and they hear people might be there, are simple yet completely effective. Plus, in this bleak world, they need something to live for, even something this simple, even if it turns out to be untrue in the end. As the film progresses, you expect they will survive but you’re not sure. This unpredictability is another element that makes The Road a film worth seeing. You experience the journey with the characters and you experience their lows and highs right along with them.
But in the end, it finds something we all would want to have during and after an intense experience like this: hope. I don’t find The Road depressing at all. In fact, just the opposite. After following the torturous and perilous journey of The Road, at the end you’re left with a feeling that even at our most dire hour, there’s still something to be thankful for and something to believe in. Certainly, the film offers a bleak and depressing look at the disintegration of humanity after the apocalypse. However, it does depict the decline of civilization beautifully and even with the destruction all around, the film is oddly compelling visually. Mention must also be made of the production design, which shows the aftermath of the apocalyptic event in stark and brilliant detail.
The film forces us to examine what’s important in our lives and how we interact as citizens of this planet. It also asks tough questions about how we might behave if faced with similar circumstances. Would we resort to depravity, murder and turn on our fellow humans for food? Or, would we face the end with dignity and with a sense of purpose? Its these decisions that help shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a society.
Forget, for a few hours, the other films out there this holiday season and take a chance on a film that’s meaningful and has something of substance to say. There’s room for all kind of entertainment in the marketplace and films like Twilight: New Moon and similar have their place. There’s also still a place for movies that have something to say and say it well and with conviction. Subtlety is not a crime. Neither is having to think while watching a movie. Both are sorely lacking in theaters these days so a film like The Road is a welcome change from that.
With The Road the viewer is treated to a compelling story, beautifully told and even though its subject matter and some of the ways in which society is depicted could be considered dire, the film still manages to end on an uplifting and hopeful note. Even in the most desperate of times when all seems lost, there are still some decent and caring people who will do what they can to help others. The Road will not be a film for everyone, and that’s okay. Some will definitely not understand its subtleties nor appreciate it for its intelligence. Some will also find it depressing.
It isn’t depressing. In fact, watching The Road makes you appreciate even more the people and the love you have in your life. Because when everything is stripped away, all of your material goods are gone and society is uncertain and on the brink of chaos, the people you love and who love you will be there, no matter where the road takes you.