A Review of The Road

The Road presents a difficult challenge.  It is very melodramatic and does not really offer any sort of emotional core.  The two characters are actually quite banal-they are not even given names.  What happens to them is ultimately meaningless as we do not feel as deep a connection to it as we should.

Then again, these are the exact same problems I had with the book.  Should I blame the filmmakers for not taking their own initiative with the material or praise them for taking a novel and keeping the themes intact?  I am at a loss.

The film, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, follows a man (Viggo Mortensen)and his son as they make their way to the coast in a post apocalyptic world.  What has happened is never really explained.  We only know that most of the animals and crops are dead, food and weapons are scarce, and certain pockets of the survivors have resorted to cannibalism.  The man is trying to remain rational and teach his son the differences between right from wrong.  Of course, as the journey continues, he finds himself unable to follow his own lessons.

First off, I must surrender myself here and admit bias.  Many consider McCarthy the greatest living American writer.  I do not-at least not as long as Thomas Pynchon is alive.  I also had some problems with McCarthy’s prose-its style became quite tiring after a while.  It offered me no emotional center to the characters and, while I found a lot to admire about it,

What does this have to do with the film?  It is quite faithful to the novel-flaws and all.  I found the film to be the same.  When it was great, it was an astounding work that perfectly captures the emotions of two people surrounded by death.   The film is a perfect illustration of the Lockian ideas on the state of nature-as time goes on, the man appears to be an anomaly rather than what society considers normal.  He seems to realize this, and is trying to fight the urge to be an animal. His son is the embodiment of God trying to keep him sane (the man says as much in the film).  The flash backs (which are fleshed out for the film) also add to this struggle.  The wife (Charlize Theron) no longer sees God and kills herself out of frustration.

After a while though, the film, like the book, simply runs out of things to say.  The climatic arrival to the coast offers nothing-it should offer the start of a new act but just offers more of the same.  The characters that the man meets are fairly incidental-we do not get a sense of their lives and what they have had to survive and remain sane. I wanted at least one of them to stay with the characters more and offer them a challenge.  Alas, twas not to be. Instead we

Again, I absolutely cannot fault the filmmakers for this.  I can sense their struggles-this was a critically lauded book written by an author with a very large following.  Any deviations would be treated with scorn.  And frankly, it was not as if the book needed to be seriously updated to work as cinema.  But then, what would the point be?  Unless we are ready to surrender to a completely post literate age, why translate a book to screen directly? Wouldn’t we be better if we just read the book? I found myself asking those questions and finding no answers.
So, yes, I did enjoy the film in the  same way I enjoyed the book. But it is not a masterpiece.  Perhaps the film would have better serviced if the filmmakers ignored some of the fans. Better to be a maverick than to be meticulous.  That is a lesson many need to keep in mind.  Otherwise, the creative mind will resemble the ruined forests of The Road.

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