The Road – A harsh but heart-warming tale of survival

theroadposterCormac McCarthy is one of the finest writers in modern literature; he has produced instant classics with Blood Meridian and All The Pretty Horses, not to mention a certain novel titled No Country For Old Men.

The latter is a truly brilliant and breathtaking book, and many who did not appreciate the film would have done well to check out the source material first, in order to gain a better understanding of the story, its purpose and the reasons behind the opinion-splitting ending.

McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with The Road, a literary work that is magnificent beyond words. It is the story of a man and his son as they attempt to survive an arduous journey through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The film version, directed by The Proposition helmer John Hillcoat, faithfully adapts the book into a stark, vivid and harrowing piece of cinema.

The two embark on an emotionally and physically draining quest to stay alive in a barren, cold and savage environment where vicious cannibals are a constant threat, and thieves would not think twice about stealing a blanket from a sleeping child.

Man and boy are heading south, out of hope more than anything else. We do not know their names, we do not know what happened to the world and we certainly do not know if they can survive this bleak, unforgiving hell.

A moment of weakness and fatigue sees them investigate a house where they find something truly horrifying in the basement, whilst the man’s own savage survival instincts cause him to defy his son’s desperate request of leniency towards a thief they hold at gunpoint.

As the man battles to keep his son alive by any means necessary, his son teaches him to remember the essence of humanity at a time when there is little left to speak of.

They have a gun with two bullets; the man brutally explains to the boy how to use the gun on himself should they be discovered by the cannibals, who harvest people over time to make their body parts last.

This truly horrific and slow death is not an option, and thus the man must show the son how to end it all quickly if the time comes.

Their desperate tale is set against some flashbacks involving the child’s mother (ever-reliable Charlize Theron), as we gradually discover the devastating reasons for her absence.

The book is so incredibly evocative and heart-wrenching that a film version would always struggle to recreate, or even echo, the original immensity of the tale. John Hillcoat was a wise choice after his superb direction of instant western classic The Proposition, and he does very well to produce a piece that is so committed to the source material.

But, as is almost always the case, the whole book could not be adapted because the film would be too long. The story is streamlined, and this results in some loss of power and intensity.

McCarthy’s novel has long, aching and beautifully crafted paragraphs detailing the harsh surroundings and tragic plight of father and son; bringing such literary brilliance to the screen was always going to be tough.

An excellent job has been done with the landscape and the cinematography; the dull greys and wintery whites have the desired effect, whilst the bleak and endless road, which is such an important and vivid metaphor within the novel, is wonderfully brought to life using some of the astounding natural landscapes in America, such as the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings, History of Violence) is absolutely brilliant as the man; the epitome of perfect casting. Newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee is a revelation, embodying a child who has never known the world that was, but is wise and caring beyond his years.

The legendary Robert Duvall (Godfather, Apocalypse Now) makes a brief appearance as an old man wandering the road. His wondrous cameo could easily have stolen the movie, if it wasn’t for such stellar performances from Mortensen and Smit-McPhee.

Certain integral and essentially devastating moments, when read within the novel, impact as a truck would at high speed into a wall of glass; the film struggles to deliver here.

We are not sure why the intensity, at times, becomes slightly blunted; it is as if the film almost strolls casually and carelessly past some very important and shattering elements of its brave and beautiful source material.

Despite this, the film version of The Road is still excellent; it simply misses the beat on a couple of occasions. Although the novel dwarfs the film, it is an ultimately impressive, haunting and must-see movie experience.

Image: Dinca.org

2 Responses to “The Road – A harsh but heart-warming tale of survival”

  1. A says:

    Great review. I’ve yet to see the film.

  2. T J Parker says:

    This film freaked me out, the cellar filled with people missing body parts was horrific. I was hoping there would be a ‘happy ending’ of sorts but it still seems to be pretty bleak. As a disaster, end of the world type movie it’s pretty good but even after a while I was getting annoyed with the whiny little kid, shut up!

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