SUB-GENRES: Drama / Thriller / Survival
DIRECTED BY: John Hillcoat
WRITTEN BY: Joe Penhall (screenplay); Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy
PEW PEW: The stage is set for anything and everything to happen in this flick, but it’s not an action movie.
CAT FOOD: Unlike most post-apocalyptic films, The Road actually does better than attempt to show the ravages of holocaust on both landscape and the human heart.
I’m not going to lie, this film had two things going against it before it even left the gate. First off, I’m not a Cormac McCarthy fan. The McCarthy adaptation that preceeded The Road, No Country For Old Men, was one of the most unnecessary, retardedly bleak, ugly, and pointless films I have ever seen. It might as well have been called Fuck You, Viewer, For Caring About Characters.
Second, I’m reasonably sure the whole post-apocalyptic thing has been played out to death already. While I’ve loved post-apocalypse films in the past, and there are most certainly more of these stories to tell, I’m afraid we might have fallen into a bit of a rut with our current mindset. Against these odds, however, I grew rather fond of The Road over the course of its two hour running time.
The film begins by rather quietly introducing an ambiguous apocalypse, most likely a nuclear holocaust or immense natural catastrophe of some kind. Our main character quite literally wakes up to it. We then fast forward several years to find he and his son heading south down a road, through a bleak and ravaged world full of scavengers, cannibals, rapists, and all around no-goods, toward some unexplained goal.
The story is decidedly thin, with the narrative going back and forth from the present to the time the main character’s wife was still in the picture. Survival is the name of the game, and father and son drift from cover to cover, trying desperately to avoid other dangerous men, and death at the hands of starvation. I will say, however, that no matter how linear and uncomplicated the plot is, The Road is chillingly engaging.
In the uphill struggle for survival, hope hangs impossibly by less than a thread as no sign of any amount of recovery appears in reach. There is never a feeling that this world can be rebuilt. As Kyle Reese said in The Terminator, mankind is on the brink of “going out forever.” In spite of this, The Road somehow manages to craft an oddly uplifting story of a man’s bond with his son, and preparing the boy’s character for a time when he will no longer be around.
The film’s look could be described as a mesmerising bleak. Even the comforts of nature are few and far between. With all of the animals having perished and the trees existing only as rickety and collapsing skeletons, flowing water seems to be the only natural wonder that appears comforting. Images of abandoned highways, austere landscapes dominated by obsoleted power transformers, and oppressive black clouds make The Road’s world so damn ugly it’s nothing short of a visual masterpiece.
As stated in this review’s preamble, The Road’s presentation of the ravages of holocaust on both nature and on humanity is something quite unique and very special. In the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, it’s very important to come up with something unique and defining to set the film apart from all the rest of the “everything’s gone, we’re all fucked” clones. The Road passes with flying colours as it shows what mankind is capable of in its lowest moments. That being said, the menace is only really hinted at, so the squeamish like myself will be able to endure the darkest bits.
Do understand this, however:
Early on in the film, you’ll develop a pit in your stomach. My advice is to name it and learn its favourite colour — it’s gonna be with you for a while. The Road wastes no time setting the stage for absolutely anything and everything to happen, creating an unparalleled amount of suspense for a film with no outright goal. And just as there’s a ton of dread and despair happening, there are moments of joy to be had as well that stand out like the proverbial fire mentioned in a few of the film’s scenes.
My only gripe with The Road is its relatively ambiguous plot. There doesn’t seem to be any goal aside from survival, so this stunts the thing’s potential, but it doesn’t hurt its stakes any. The film is consequently quite bleak, however, but it does have a conclusion that could very easily be misconstrued as a hopeful one. I can live with that.
Ambiguity and lack of a final goal aside, The Road will keep you on the edge of your seat for no other reason than you have a human heart.