Man’s Appetite for Evil is Fortunately Exceeded by his Capacity for Courage
It’s the reason we continue to exist after so many horrendous bouts of self-mutilation of the species. Cormac McCarthy wrote this titular Pulitzer Prize winning novel about our Earth in a post apocalyptic state, which was brought on by Man’s and nature’s complicit resolve to make the planet die, with host killing it parasite - Mankind. Joe Penhall adapted the screenplay of the McCarthy’s classic, and John Hillcoat directed the film that well expresses this journal of doom cast against the bleak landscape of a dying North America.
Director Hillcoat’s choice of concentrating on the relationship of a nameless father, played by Viggo Mortensen, and his nameless son, played by newcomer Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee, juxtaposed against this hopeless landscape of death and decay, foisted upon the audience an abject sense of the collective human condition as it winds down, so similar to the languishing death of a loved on, with as much grace as this father and this son can muster. To project this atmosphere of hopelessness, the Director employed the rich cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe, whose perspective of the apocalypse was that of color resembled that of sepia with dashes of color, which served to foretell streaks of hope upon the damning realty along Earth’s horizon.
The father, Viggo Mortensen, and the boy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, spend years on the road searching for the means to survive: Above. The mother, Charlize Theron, found little strength and the courage to see it to the end: Below.
The boy’s mother, Charlize Theron, understood the nature of this environmental apocalypse, which was initiated by some unknown catalyst. This unknown agent served as the subplot, and afforded the audience the question that would give up few answers other than to screw us deeper into the thread of this loosely woven morality play. And this delicate balance between the artists' intended purpose, and the curiosity of the keen viewer is the mark of any finely hewn tale well told.
To accomplish this feat of representing the human condition under such dire circumstances, the better narrative will succeed by engaging the audience with excellent dialogue, but in a film that unveils it visual message in luxuriant layers it is best to utilize the skills of talented actors. The casting for “The Road” was nearly impeccable, and besides the remarkable Viggo Mortensen, who has become a fine thespian with the talent to realistically evoke impassioned human emotion, any film that pairs him with the inestimable talents of the great Robert Duvall, as the nameless Old Man (if only for a short while), has a good chance to succeed as a seriously well acted film.
Firt time actor Kodi Smit-McPhee was never far from Viggo, and one has to give the boy credit for never dragging down the scene, which can happen when they are paired with such an accomplished actor, and in a first such as this, with so much story to tell in its 111 minutes of runtime, every scene counts toward the film's success. The film succeeds only when we are convinced of the absolute humanity remaining within the father and his son, without appearing contrived, forced.
If the film has a weakness, it is a hard film to watch, especially if one expects the world to have preconceived outcomes. The film, while nearly perfect in many ways, suggests that there could be a time of monumental suffering, with no certain outcome in that bleak future so aptly painted before us. When this narrative brings forth this ten-years-old boy with an angelic face traveling the countryside, scrounging for food under the watchful eye of his courageous and noble father, it is difficult not to feel a part of the story, and root for them to succeed. The tough part for the sympathetic viewer is; it never really gets that much better for our favorite son, and his father as evidenced by the dialogue below that describes vaguely how the apocalypse began, and how it proceeded:
The Father: [narrating] The clocks stopped at one seventeen one morning. There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. I think it's October but I can't be sure. I haven't kept a calender for five years. Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker - beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the world slowly dies. No animals have survived. All the crops are long gone. Someday all the trees in the world will have fallen. The roads are peopled by refugees towing carts and road gangs looking for fuel and food. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food. Always food. Food and our shoes. Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice - difficult as they are to remember. All I know is the child is my warrant and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.
The Father: "Listen, we have to talk. That man back there... There's not many good guys left, that's all. We have to watch out for the bad guys. We have to just... keep carrying the fire.""
The Son: "What fire?"
The Father: "The fire inside you."
The Son: "Are we still the good guys?"
The Father: "Yes, we're still the good guys. Of course we are."
The Son: "And we always will be? No matter what happens?"
The Father: "Always will."
And later after more hardship, and terrific struggle in the face of constant uncertainty, the father and the son speak again:
The Son: [they just ate two crickets after narrowly escaping from the cannibal house where people are locked in the basement until ready to be eaten] "We would never eat anybody, would we?"
The Father: "No, of course not."
The Son: "No matter how hungry we were?"
The Father: "Uh nuh."
The Son: "Even if we were starving?"
The Father: "We're starving now."
The Son: "Because we're the good guys."
The Father: "Yes."
The Boy: "And we're carrying the fire."
The Man: [with a very proud smile] "Yes."
"The Road" was easily one of the 10 best films of 2009, and Viggo Mortenson should have been nominated for an Oscar. It didn't happen, but it does not really matter. I loved the film, and I energetically suggest you at least try to understand a film that may one day be a classic science fiction morality play that makes a full-throated commentary on what is the worst and the best within us all.
Rated R. Released on DVD May 25, 2010.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.