The Road is the film adaptation of the Pulitzer winning novel written by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country For Old Men and All The Pretty Horses. Our fascination with what a post-apocalyptic world might be like has been fodder for countless books, television shows, and movies. When I was in college, I was required to read George R. Stewart’s novel Earth Abides. Excruciatingly detailed, the book gave me anxiety attacks for months, as it told the story of a grad student looking for other people who may have survived a plague that wipes out the entire population.
As he traverses the land, the minute changes that he observes in the landscape and appearance of the United States are painstakingly recorded. More recently, The History Channel presented Life After People, which depicts what changes would occur to the earth’s ecological systems and the infrastructure we leave in our wake. Quite frankly, this type of topic scares the crap out of me.
Now we have The Road, which is the harrowing story of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi-Smit McPhee) trying to make their way across the country by foot after some unidentified event has wiped out most of mankind. The wife (Charlize Theron) is shown only in flashbacks. The threat of a harsh winter that they most certainly won’t survive serves as the impetus for their journey southward. There is a vague possibility of finding other people, but it is based on faith and hope, rather than concrete knowledge of their existence.
The movie’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic world is absolutely bone-chilling. The allegorical novel Lord of the Flies showed us how quickly a tightly structured society can unravel in the absence of order. Imagine taking that premise, and removing all hope from the inhabitants of the island. No social order plus no hope is a lethal combination.
Barbaric, cannibalistic gangs roam the countryside in this world, and they are an even bigger concern than the constant threat of starvation and disease. The scenes that depicted the marauding gangs hunting down hapless travelers have absolutely haunted me.
There is not much of a story per se, but the film serves as an examination of the human spirit under insurmountable odds. Many times during the movie I kept questioning what my own resolve would be under similar circumstances. There are so many obstacles, yet the two trudge forward, sparked by a survival instinct precious few of us possess. The notion that death is a luxury is certainly troubling, and the cold reality that The Man must instruct his child how to commit suicide in case they get captured is a heavy one to swallow.
Despite the bleak nature of the film, I found it gorgeous to look at. Heavy dust seems to cover everything (which I surmise must have been from a nuclear incidence), and director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) uses blue, grey and white tones to strip the film of color. This perfectly suits the subject matter. The set pieces are wholly realistic, and you really feel as though the two stars are walking across an abandoned tundra.
Viggo Mortensen is nothing short of amazing. Not only did he transform himself physically (he is startling gaunt and bedraggled), but he captures the desperation, fright and despair of his character. Relative newcomer Kodi-Smit McPhee more than holds his own as the child who has seen horrors no one should, and has to grow up far before his time. I’m a little puzzled over Charlize Theron’s appearance. Her character’s motivations are vague, and quite frankly removing her from the movie wouldn’t have hurt it one bit.
The Road was originally intended for a November 2008 release, and rumblings have surfaced that the studio wasn’t sure how to market the movie to audience. If anything, the recent success of Precious has shown that audiences can handle serious subject matter. A movie does not have to upbeat to be good. Do yourself a favor and go see The Road, if for no other reason than for the performances of the two leading men.