Tuesday, December 1, 2009



A little more than a year ago, I read Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road for the first time. I loved it, but as I got through the last few pages, I felt a measure of relief. Specifically, I was happy about the fact that I'd chosen to read such a downer of a story in the summertime, since I had the warmth of the sun to turn to after leafing through such sadness.

Upon the arrival of the film, I must advise one thing. Much like I did with the book, try to see a matinee of this movie. That way, when you're done sitting through the sadness, you can leave the theatre and walk into the warmth of the sun.

An apocalyptical event has occurred. We aren't told anything specific, but it would seem a safe bet that it's a man-made disaster. In an effort to survive, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) take to the road, heading for the west coast. We're not entirely sure what they hope to find there, but through flashbacks we understand that the idea came from the wife and mother (Charlize Theron) before she fell into despair. To say their “journey” is putting it lightly, since mankind has turned on itself quite viciously. Theft, rape, and murder are rampant. Sadly, so too is cannibalism, as food rations run frighteningly low. The relative warmth and possibility of safe haven on the west coast seems to be their only hope.

The two words that continually came to mind as I watched this movie were "bleak" and "grim." The world of THE ROAD has almost no happiness, and to emphasize that, the colour palate is mostly greys and browns, punctuated with the occasional appearance of blood red. The amazing thing about this movie is just how much unease the audience is made to feel at the appearance of other people. When humans have lost their humanity, the sound of footsteps is about as chilling as the cocking of a gun. It's a moment of true tension, and it doesn't get any easier with repetition.

Trying to zero in on what makes this amazing film so very unsettling, I have to point an arrow at the amount of times we're forced to consider suicide and mercy killings. The notion follows the characters as closely as their shadows, so much so that we are left wondering not if this father and son will take their own lives, but when? It pulls us into despair with them as we understand how hopeless mankind feels the world has become. When I say that this film is chilling, realize that I am talking about a story when mothers and fathers talk about killing their own children.

Much of the credit for how affecting THE ROAD is comes back to Viggo Mortensen's performance. Fighting through seven layers of clothing, and enough dirt and grime to make a mud hut, he plays the father as man who hasn't, and seemingly won't, give up on the world. He wears an expression that takes fear, sadness, and panic bravely disguised so that his son can always believe that everything will be alright. It isn't all doom and gloom for this father and son, and in the moments where they do happen upon an unexpected treasure like a can of Coke, Mortensen plays the scenes with a sad sense of pride. He knows that in times like these, he is giving his son something to believe in, and it takes everything he has not to break down and cry from relief.

THE ROAD is a truly moving piece of work by director John Hillcoat. While he paints the earth as one many of us wouldn't want to live in for long, he continually draws our attention to this family. The sense of love and wisdom he draws from Smit-McPhee, and the embodiment of determination he gets from Mortensen help us understand that even when things seem lost, we must do all we can to endure. We must do this for those we were put here to protect, for those who are protecting us, and for those who are gone in the name of our protection.

Truly, if there has been one difficulty in writing this review, it's been in trying to separate the film from the book. For any Cormac McCarthy fans out there, I'll cut to the chase. There are a few differences; however, I don't think that they cause the original story any disservice, in fact quite the opposite. They fill in a few blanks and take a necessary pit stop to juxtapose a momentary win with the long losing streak that life has become for these people. It does the legendary story as well as McCarthy's tones of grit and pain real justice before sending the audience out to recuperate in the sun.


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