Adapting the award winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a morbidly bleak post-apocalyptic film that dares you to hope for something better that never looks like coming. Delicate, quiet and disturbing at times, its taken me several viewings to truly appreciate just how great The Road is.
The disasters faced
An unknown world ending event, cannibalism, tinned food still being good way past the sell by date, the human condition, tribalism, loneliness and hunger.
I must preface this with the admission that I have not read the book (yet) so I will only be talking about the film.
The Road focuses on a man and his boy. We never learn their names and Viggo Mortensen who plays the father doesn’t even refer to his son by name in his monologues. An unknown event has taken place which seems to have eradicated most of the world in a near instant. Those whom survived were left in a dying world where humanity has been in decline as food resources dwindle. It is depressing as fires rage, trees collapse, plants wither and all the animals are gone. We never quite know what has happened but it seems likely it was man-made.
The Road is the path that Man & Boy take as they head south. They don’t have a specific destination but they are walking that way as instructed in one of the final requests from Woman. She could not cope with the enduring sadness of the world and decided to end her suffering before someone did it for her.
She felt that way because humans have turned to violent gangs and cannibalism in order to survive. Those who have meat, can stay strong rather than living off tiny forages of old corn or the occasional tinned good. Things are bleak and Man has a gun with two bullets – one for each of them – should things become too much on their journey. Each day is an active choice to continue rather than give up and each day is harder considering what they see around them. How far will they get? What will be there when they head south? Is there anyone else still acting in good nature out there? The Road will make you think about all this and much more.
Why is it worth watching?
It took me a few watches to truly understand my answer for this question – mainly because its largely a meditative film. You need to sit with it afterwards and think about how you would deal with the situation. The man has every good intention on protecting his boy but in turn, as things get increasingly desperate, he begins to do more things that cross the line. Boy wants to stay on the helpful path. He wants to share food, give warmth and help people. Man has seen so many terrible things that he can no longer offer that trust. It is a slippery slope but its a completely relatable and understandable one. As Man’s actions are increasingly more aggressive, different viewers will start to cross over onto Boy’s way of thinking at different points in the film. Everyone I’ve spoken to about the movie that’s seen it has a different cross over point which I find fascinating.
There is also the emotional journey that we see every character take. Woman’s fear, acceptance and then disconnect from the world is told so succinctly that each scene is a powerhouse of impactful acting and storytelling. Boy’s need to help people whilst worrying that he will be last man alive gives a layered character whilst Man runs the gambit of survival every day. Even the characters you bump into along the way feel layered like the old man and the thief.
Two other things really draw you into The Road. The cinematography is astounding. There are so many desolate shots of abandoned vistas, decimated and grey. Ash is everywhere. The world feels lifeless and yet each shot has a poetic beauty to it as the two souls trudge through. The other element is sound. This is largely a quiet movie and it uses sounds of water, fire, weapons and occasional piano music to set moods and snap between scenes beautifully.
The effects in this movie look fantastic because of the way they are shot. The colour grading sucks the life out of everything except fire. Fire is then used to light so many shots – from forest inferno to a lighter flicker. Add that into still shots of ruined cities, houses and towns and you have a mighty impressive look and feel. The set design and dusty nature of everything visually chokes you too. It is subtle but adds a ton of depth to each shot.
This is a character driven film. I felt attached to all three main characters without ever knowing their names. It is a testament to the script, direction and the stunning acting of all three. Woman is only shown in flashbacks but Charlize Theron acts her socks off as she gives birth to Boy whilst whimpering ‘No’. Why would you want to bring a child into a now dead world? Kodi Smit-McPhee is superb here as Boy too – running the gambit of emotions as he longs for someone to play with. Viggo Mortensen has never turned in a day of poor acting in his career and this is amongst his best work. I’d also like to shout out Robert Duvall who plays the old man whose gone blind. The old man’s views on the world felt grounded and spiritual at the same time and it plays beautifully.
Do you ever wish you would die?
No. It’s foolish to ask for luxuries at times like theseman and old man have a heart to heart at the campfire.
Three memorable moments
- Man and Woman discussing committing suicide at the kitchen table.
- Man and Boy stumbling across a human meat factory in a basement.
- The last ten minutes for making everyone an emotional wreck.
The obligatory weird moment
I don’t think there is a particular weird moment in the movie although I love to theorise about what the event was. I’ve landed on either a super-volcano or and EMP-blasting multi nuke attack. I do have one tiny criticism. The film has quite a lot of dark scenes where you can barely see what is going on. I understand why but it does make the viewing experience a little difficult at times.
The drinking game
Is that a tinned fruit can I see? I wonder if Dole sponsored the film?
Thoughtful, tense, atmospheric and largely depressing. The Road is not an easy film to watch but it is beautifully shot, expertly acted and tells an interesting and important story. When all else fails, would you still keep some humanity with you as it the world goes to waste?
Rating: 4 / 5 – Excellent
If you liked The Road then you may also like…
- Children of Men – A similar feel and emotional pull as humans become infertile.
- A Boy and His Dog – Post apocalyptic man and his best friend movie.
- The Quiet Earth – One man thinks he is last man alive on Earth.