Back when the possibility of nuclear war was a hot topic in the 80′s, there were various visions of the apocalypse and what might be left of both the earth and humanity after the destruction. Cormac McCarthy’s 2007 Pulitzer prize winning book “The Road” details the story of a few survivors of such an event. The film adaptation, directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition), focuses not on the event of the apocalyptic destruction, but instead on what is left in its wake. The aftermath sees an earth in tattered ruins and those left alive, struggling (in the immortal words of Malcolm X “by any means necessary”) to spend more time on it.
The Road stars Viggo Mortensen as ‘the man’ and Kodi-Smit McPhee as ‘the boy’; a father and son roaming the remains of earth in a journey to the coast. The coast is seen as a place where there might be more fruitful means of living, but this might indeed be conjecture by the father, as he is attempting to teach his boy how to navigate this new version of life on earth. Armed with a revolver with two spare bullets, the man will protect his child at all costs, against all comers. The bullets represent the last opportunity to leave the planet with their dignity in tact. One bullet for each person, to take their own lives should the will to win finally be too small or a situation be too fraught with danger to chance it. Earth is inhabited by a clear sense of the unknown. Fear everything, trust no one.
Since there are few survivors scrambling for any remnants of food, trying to achieve a means to an end, cannibalism has become the most gruesome, and in some ways necessary, means of death. Some survivors have bonded together in rebellious groups figuring that it’s best to be part of a team to make their way through the landscape. Most of these people would kill for a Mickey D’s, well, really they would kill for a lot less. Their is no sunlight, earth is covered in a steady dust. It is cold and often wet. Those without wilderness skills of cunning need not apply. Hope you got your boy scout training on lock. Clothing is at a premium. The value of fuel makes our displeasure with high gas prices seem absolutely trivial. A dented, still full can of soda is to be cherished. A cigarette, even more so. The bottom line is, things aren’t pretty. Our duo roam like low-class homeless people, not because they are, but not because they aren’t. Everyone is homeless.
So, not a lot happens in The Road. That is pretty much the point. It’s not like you are going to catch a baseball game on TV or go to the cinema. There is no currency. Really, there is nothing. Nothing but what you have inside of you. The film, in my eyes, is the most realistic and brilliant depiction of what might be left after an apocalyptic event. That being said, it’s nothing nice.
This is as faithful an adaptation of the novel as necessary, an amazing job by Hillcoat. He allows the destructed landscape to speak for itself and offers up some great camera angles to keep things visually interesting. There is a clever working in (an expansion from the novel) of the mother/wife character – portrayed by the usually strong Charlize Theron – that plays a role in how our characters views on life are shaped. All the while, Hillcoat lets the actors be the key our participation in this desolation. Hillcoat luckily scored the rights to the novel, six months prior to it even being published. Long before it was a best seller, a Pulitzer prize winner and an Oprah book club pick. His gain becomes our gain, with the result being a difficult, but important, film.
The film (and the novel for that matter) is about both survival and love in their purest forms. It is an examination of what it means to guide, to teach, to share, to learn. It’s also on my short list for movie of the year thus far. It is a perfect chance for all of us to look both outside – and within – ourselves, to discover what we are really all about. While The Road is one that nobody in their right mind would literally want to travel, it is one that most should take the opportunity to see.