' ' Cinema Romantico: The Road

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Road

Ten minutes into this cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, set in a grimmer-than-grim, bleaker-than-bleak post-apocalyptic world, a father (Viggo Mortensen) shows his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) how to insert a pistol into his mouth to properly, if need be, blow his brains out. And so the viewer reaches an understanding as to how this film could go from being originally set for release in 2008 to being released in 2009 and receiving lukewarm reception at the box office, so much so that it barely surfaced at theaters here in Chicago before going back under.

If anything, "The Road" is a triumph of a place and time that hasn't existed, realistically creating a world long since ravaged by some unnamed disaster, where mankind struggles to survive with no plants or animals on which to feed, and sunlight non-existent. Director John Hillcoat filmed on real locations in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Oregon because, as he told USA Today, "We didn't want to go the CGI world." Hallelujah. Those words are music to my ears. Green screen grime always looks too pristine.

The grey landscape mirrors the mood where the happy moments in which Father and Son indulge - a can of soda, a swim beneath a waterfall - are barely seen. As soon as they begin Hillocat is already cutting away from them as if to reinforce the pointlessness of that happiness. Even a shelter upon which our characters stumble that offers food and a decent place to sleep isn't around for long.

Previews for "The Road" seemed to suggest it was setting up an inevitable showdown between roving gangs of cannibals and the Father trying to save the Son from them but this could not be farther from the truth. This film has no interest in that sort of clockwork-like conclusion. Any untrustworthy people they encounter on their journey possess no extra insidious motives. The Father always bellows the same question: "Why are you following us?" And to this the recipient of the question always bellows back: "We weren't following you!"  Everything here is random, without reason, which makes it doubly awful.

The Father and Son's destination is the coast. Why? Perhaps this is simply the fallback action of any survivors post-apocalypse. Like The Court Yard Hounds sang: "I'm gonna head down to the coast/Where nothin' ever seems to matter." Not that anything really matters anywhere else in "The Road." The only thing that does seem to matter is staying alive which comes across as a less pleasant option than death in this scenario but there goes that damn human resolve for you. Even when you're more likely to be feasted on by cannibals than to pass away in your sleep, we've gotta try to survive.


Thomas said...
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Thomas said...

I've had the DVD for a while but I have been unable to bring myself to watch it so far. "The Road" is one of my all time favorite books and I'm afraid that the film might ruin it for me. Maybe if it had gotten better reviews, I would be more willing to give it a try, but there are certain elements of the world that I think can only be captured in literary form. I'll probably get around to watching it eventually, but I'm pretty sure that I'll be disappointed.


Wretched Genius said...

Hillcoat was a great choice for director. His previous film, The Proposition, was also quite bleak, though in a much more slowly-roasting-in-the-sun kind of way.