The Road – A Movie Review

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.

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

Maps and Legends was both a real pleasure and incredibly insightful in a multitude of ways. 

This nonfiction book by Michael Chabon, author of Wonderboys and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, offers a variety of essays that will assuredly please all readers.

That’s not to say that all readers will love each and every one of the essays in this book, though.  However, I know there is something for everyone to appreciate and even learn from in Maps and Legends.

Chabon essentially covers four broad topics in this collection.  He expends great energy discussing trends and personalities in comic books, the art of writing, various aspects of literature, and his own diverse influences and personal background.

Since these are four topics that I’m very interested in as well, I loved almost every single essay. 

Chabon is such an interesting man.  The idea that a Pulitzer Prize-winning author takes the time to lament the death of Will Eisner, acknowledge the brilliance of Howard Chaykin, analyze McCarthy’s The Road, and reveal deeply personal secrets (some even real) from his own life all within one collection, it’s just a pure joy for someone like me to experience.

However, I think the most valuable thing I learned from Chabon in his book is that the term “genre” in literature is not a naughty word.  He analyzes the importance of genre, especially in relation to the short story, and disparages the fact that people’s snobbery towards genre is actively executing the short story.

Furthermore, Chabon is utterly transparent in the essays involving his life, so transparent he even reveals he has lied to us and could be lying at any given moment.  That sort of honesty about deception is a breath of fresh air.

If you’re a fan of comic books, the art of writing, or Michael Chabon himself, I really encourage you to give this book a try.  I think you’ll be pleased with what you read.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

I heard many positive statements about the work of Cormac McCarthy, and so a few weeks ago, I gave him a try with No Country for Old Men.  I was not disappointed. 

 

Because of such a sublime experience, I couldn’t wait to read another of his works, this time opting for The Road.  I must admit from my previous exposure to McCarthy, I had a very difficult time finding what possible allure The Road held for Oprah Winfrey, who named it her book of the month (or whatever she may call it) a while back. 

 

Nothing against Oprah, but I made sure to buy a used copy, one produced at a time when they weren’t yet stamping her approval upon the cover.

 

The Road had much in common with No Country for Old Men, but it also had many dissimilarities.  The commonalities included the lack of quotation marks, the terse sentences and paragraphs, and a minimalist approach to description.

 

In contrast, however, The Road did not grab my interest by the throat and demand I give it my full attention as did No Country for Old Men.  In fact, I found myself rather uninterested in The Road and struggled for the motivation to finish it.

 

I must wonder, however, if the slow, mind-numbing style employed by McCarthy meant to reflect the despair and melancholy his characters fought to overcome with every breath they took.

 

For The Road is the story of a post-apocalyptic world, one covered in ash where little to no life has survived.  A man and a boy travel a road, desperately heading to the ocean, though they know not what they’ll find upon arriving.  The boy has known no other world, but the man can remember a time without hunger, without death surrounding them like a second skin, and he wants more than anything to keep the boy alive.  The hope of finding the boy a better life is the only reason the man has for subsisting.

 

Nevertheless, because this is McCarthy, a happy conclusion is not guaranteed.

 

The composition of The Road mirrored the plight of its characters, and while this is an interesting stylistic choice, it ultimately left me dispassionate.  Though I am glad Oprah enjoyed it.

 

However, The Road did NOT turn me off McCarthy, who I still believe is an extraordinary writer, and I look forward to reading more of his work.