WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
I saw a sneak preview of THE ROAD last week at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. I went with a group of friends, all of whom were anxious to see how faithful an adaptation it was to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by CORMAC McCARTHY. I myself, had not read the book yet (I have since) and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Months ago, I saw a horribly edited trailer for it, that completely got the tone and style of the movie wrong. It made it look like any other post-apocalyptic action thriller, which it definitely is not.
THE ROAD takes place in a dying America that is almost unlivable. How it got that way is a mystery, but it is clear that a major cataclysmic event has completely destroyed all life as we know it. The sun is constantly shrouded in a grey darkness and ash falls down from the sky like snow. Fires burn out of control in the forests and all plant and animal life are extinct, making it nearly impossible to find food. Packs of marauders roam the land searching for the sick, weak and less fortunate, to capture and consume. In order to survive you must keep moving, because nowhere is safe.
We are introduced to this world through the eyes of two of its inhabitants. VIGGO MORTENSEN is a nameless father who must protect his young son (KODI SMIT McPHEE) from the harsh environment he was born into, as well as he can. They must continue along a road, that will hopefully lead them to the coast and to some form of sanctuary.
They travel through freezing cold mountains, burning forests, abandoned cities and open fields where packs of starving refugees lie in wait to ambush others, so that they can rob and eat them. It is the bleakest of all worlds imaginable and it becomes apparent as the film goes on, that the possibility of the man and his son finding anything that even slightly resembles hope as being an unattainable quest. Their only defense against the “bad guys” is a revolver with just two bullets, which are being saved to use on themselves if all becomes lost and they are captured.
In a few flashbacks we learn of the man’s wife (played by CHARLIZE THERON) and her strong wish to not bring their child into this nightmarish world. After the birth, she argues that suicide is the only option to avoid the inevitable and eventually she leaves them, wandering off into the darkness and towards her own death. It is the father’s urgent desire to protect his family, that is the very reason he himself keeps going on.
And that is what the film and the novel are all about; a father’s love for his son and his drive to find a place of safety for him, even though it probably doesn’t exist. At times, the boy himself professes that they might be better off just giving up, and it becomes clear that if it wasn’t for him, his father would. Love can keep us going through the absolute worst.
There is a scene early in the film, where the father and son are looking at a waterfall. The boy sees a faint rainbow in the falling water and points to it and says, “Colors.” He has never seen one before and his father says nothing in response. It’s his lack of explanation that stayed with me, long after seeing THE ROAD. Why explain to the boy what a rainbow is, when he’ll probably never see one again?
VIGGO MORTENSEN delivers another amazing, emotionally driven performance that is totally centered on his relationship with the boy. KODI SMIT McPHEE is perfectly cast as the child born in the aftermath of the armageddon. He is the father’s moral compass, constantly reminding him that they are the “good guys”. ROBERT DUVALL and GUY PEARCE are also featured in small, yet very effective roles.
The script was adapted by JOE PENHALL, who was very faithful to CORMAC McCARTHY’S darkly poetic novel. He nailed it and stayed true to its deeper meaning.
JAVIER AGUIRRESAROBE’S cinematography is beautiful and it provides many nice long shots of the pair walking through the blighted landscape. The images are powerful and both familiar and alien, simultaneously.
JOHN HILLCOAT has directed one of the most realistic films ever made about the end of the world. You can’t help but be reminded of recent disasters like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina. The main characters live and dress themselves exactly like the homeless refugees of today. The image of them pushing a shopping cart down the road, which contains all of their meager possessions, hits pretty hard.
After the film, VIGGO MORTENSEN and JOHN HILLCOAT came out to discuss the movie and do a Q and A. They were very serious about making a true adaptation of the novel and talked a lot about how important the casting was for the boy. VIGGO started thinking of him like his own son after awhile and they bonded really well for the shoot.
A lot of the filming took place in the overcast Northwest of Washington State, but they also filmed in places that have had real disasters take place, like New Orleans and Mount St. Helens.
Almost everything from the book is in the movie, except for one very disturbing bit that was filmed, but cut because they felt it was just too much. It involves a deserted campsite the father and son find, that has the remains of a baby being cooked over a fire. Pretty rough stuff.
I’m glad this film is being released at Thanksgiving. After stuffing themselves with an abundance of food and fighting with their loved ones all day, people everywhere should go see this film. Perhaps it’ll make everyone feel a little more thankful we don’t live in a world like that… yet.