Director John Hillcoat’s 2009 film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road is heart-wrenching and strangely optimistic. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, The Road is the story of a father and son left to navigate the remains of the East Coast in an attempt to find warmth, safety and food down South. While it’s never clear what brought about the end, the father and son live in a persistant state of danger. Be it from earthquakes, wildfires, falling timbers, marauding cannibals, starvation or consumption. All animal and plant life have vanished from the face of the Earth, and what few resources remain are difficult to come by and hard won.
Viggo Mortensen stars as the father (or Man according to the end credits) and also acts as narrator, although I don’t feel, in the film, this is particularly necessary. The stark environment and solemn score do as much or more for the film than the snippets of narration. But I’m presenting a bias here and I feel it’s necessary to call it out. When a filmmaker turns to narration it’s typically to present additional information to the audience that would be too costly (either in terms of screen time or money) to convey efficiently in film. I’m assuming this is probably the case with The Road. This seems especially so when you consider the film has been adapted from a book and there is more material than the filmmakers chose to draw upon for the screenplay. This being said, I truly think the filmmakers made smart and concise decisions.
Charlize Theron, who is mother (listed as Woman in the end credits), is terrifyingly real in The Road. Pregnant at the beginning of the end, when everything starts to go wrong, we see her journey from loving wife to expectant mother to lost soul through Mortensen’s dreams and nightmares. As she slowly begins to unravel, the light fades from her eyes until finally there’s nothing left. Theron’s performance makes it nearly impossible to feel anything but empathy for her character, despite the path she takes. In that regard, Theron is, as usual, utterly captivating to watch.
In as much as The Road is about the end of the world, it’s also about letting go, finding peace, and maintaining your humanity after humanity itself has been stripped away. Their are biblical undertones to the film, but they are relatively subtle taking the shape of strangers father and son encounter along the way and the (in)actions of Man when he is tested. In the end, it is the son (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who, in his innocence and despite the world in which he has been born, remains able to open his heart and reach out to others.
There are some tender moments in The Road, moments that translate beautifully from the written page to the screen. Included are scenes where father and son share a Coca-Cola (maybe the last remaining) and when father returns to the home in which he was raised and touches a wall where marks note his growth year after year. Watching these moments through the lens of the end feels brutal and true. I felt gutted. I thought the feeling would somehow be diminished upon subsequent views, but it was not. The scenes remain like beacons, reminders to appreciate our lives and our blessings.
Explore more –
Buy the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Cormac McCarthy on Amazon: The Road
Official site: The Road official site
Wiki facts: The Road
Watch the trailer: The Road trailer