Though The Road opened around Thanksgiving, it just came to my town a few days before Christmas. This, along with the multiple delays and reshoots, gave me great concern that the movie would not live up to the source material.
My fears were unfounded.
Absolutely bleak and morose, the film perfectly captured the essence of McCarthy’s novel. I absolutely believed I was looking at an apocalyptic landscape, especially because they made sure not to go too far over the top. The landscape was covered with ash and burnt-out cars, but the skies were gray, the trees were bare, the streams ran, and the air was cold. In other words, the world looked completely recognizable. Unlike pure post-apocalyptic science fiction that leaves you feeling as though there wasn’t a chance in hell it could happen, The Road made you feel like, yeah, this could be what our tomorrow might hold, and that was a very scary feeling.
When I read the novel, it struck me as a potent work, but my wife and I were not yet parents back then. Now that I am a father, the storyline took on a whole new meaning for me, and the brilliant Viggo Mortensen utterly conveyed the despair and hope of a father striving against all odds to protect and keep his son alive in practically lifeless conditions. I believed in Viggo as the nameless protagonist, the everyman, and I saw some of myself in him, as I believe you will, too.
When my friend and I walked to our cars afterwards, another person who was in the theater yelled at us that he wanted his money back. When I asked him why, he said the little boy was far too whiny for his tastes. I have to wonder if he had a child himself, and if he did, if he could remember when that child was around nine or ten years old. Personally, I thought the boy playing Viggo’s son did a great job, and he didn’t strike me as whiny at all. Most child-actors take me right out of my suspension of disbelief, but this young actor made me believe in the story all the more so.
As a new parent, I particularly appreciated the fact that while The Road maintained much of the savageness of the novel, they did exercise discretion and left some of the more heinous scenes of the novel out, though they did hint at them. If you’ve read the novel, you can probably imagine what I’m referring to. There are some things a father simply does not want to see up on the big screen.
Which leads me to another point: I have a lot of trouble imagining someone enjoying this film if they haven’t read the novel. Don’t get me wrong, I think this film was done about as well as a film can be, but if you have no idea what you’re getting into, I think The Road might be hard to endure. In fact, some college kids behind us got up and left about half way through the film, mostly because they thought it was boring if I overheard them correctly. It is a subtle, nuanced story with brief moments of nail-biting excitement, but mostly it is a steady, tense, quiet film with little dialogue and overpowering body language and facial expressions.
It is a relationship study, an analysis of the human will to survive, a social statement on the difficultly of maintaining morality in the face of abundant depravity, and it is magnificent.