Just in time for the Holidays is John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road. Which, at its heart, is an incredibly touching story about the love between a father and son. Still, it’s incredibly depressing and should be avoided at all costs. Just kidding. Well, except for the depressing part. That’s all true.
We don’t know much about what’s happened to the world. Everything is covered in a blanket of ash. Very few people are still alive. Those who are are forced to eke out a living, scrounging for food, which sometimes includes the unlucky others they run across. In the middle of all this are a father and son who make their way across the ruined landscape, desperately searching for something better than this. Better than where they are now.
If there was ever an author who’s work lent itself to adaptation, it’s McCarthy. Whether your reading The Road or No Country for Old Men, you almost get the feeling that his novels are one giant storyboard, strung out in front of you. The hopelessness and despair are translated perfectly in The Road. Actually, it’s translated a little too well. The film’s message seems to be that love endures. But after watching Viggo Mortensen (who I think is beginning to approach that Daniel Day-Lewis level of immersing oneself in their role) and Kodi Smit-McPhee run out of a basement full of people who are being harvested as food, I ask myself, who the hell would want to endure this?
That’s the question asked by Charlize Theron, who plays Mortensen’s wife in a series of flashback sequences. I remember being annoyed by her character in the book. In the movie, I felt I understood where she was coming from. Theron is one of a very small cast. Aside from the Man and the Boy, there are only a handful of characters, none of whom spend very much time onscreen. This means that Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are carrying a lot on their shoulders, and both do it very well. Mortensen makes you believe that the only reason he’s carrying on is because of his son.
One reviewer described The Road as a story about a kid who doesn’t understand the situation he’s in. It seems like that would be obvious, considering this is the world he was born into and the only one he’s ever known. That’s exactly how Smit-McPhee plays his character. He’s sheltered but slowly coming into his own. He looks to his father as a seeing-stone, someone who can interpret the world around him and put it all into perspective. He puts forward a very good performance and I think he’s setting himself up for some good stuff in the future.
Like I said before, the issue explored in The Road is whether or not love can survive in the face of complete hopelessness. Obviously it isn’t anything that’s going to be settled anytime soon, and I’m not sure McCarthy himself feels settled on the issue. If The Road‘s message is that love endures, the message of No Country for Old Men seems to be that, sometimes, evil screws you over, and that’s it. Well, food for thought.
The Road is one of the most powerful movies we’ve seen this year. It screams out, “Oscar!” but I’m worried that, in the end, it’ll be skipped over in favor of something more mainstream. You don’t see many post-apocalyptic dramas win awards these days. Then again, you don’t see many post-apocalyptic dramas with such a touching and pure story at its heart, after you’ve peeled away all the dreary scenery and special effects. A