The Road (2009)

I love this book. It is probably one of the most depressingly beautiful things I’ve ever read. So, naturally, I have been hesitant to watch this very middlingly reviewed adaptation. And that is what it is, like all films based on books, an adaptation. There are changes to the text and visualizations that are not as one would personally have chosen. So, let’s try to not compare the film to the book. It just doesn’t compare. There is no scenario where the film will somehow be as good. Ok.
So, starting from here I’m still not sure what I think of the film. I think it is a good film. Enjoyable is not something one should use to describe it. However, I do favor the post-apocalyptic setting for a story. It is ripe with what detail-oriented like to call “subtext“. This adaptation is more parable-like than the book (ok, I’ll really stop comparing now), so there is a cinematic sentimentality here that I would prefer less of. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis works for me, but the piano motif goes a bit too far in some scenes taking it from its intended realism perhaps into melodrama. There apparently was a version of the film where the voice-over was omitted (which would probably have been better), but one must cater to the masses when the Weinsteins are involved.

Some critics take the film to task for its less bleak moments, though I’m not sure if that is fair comparatively. I think describing the film as ‘bleak’ is a good way of describing the tone, but underneath all the despair and chaos it really is just a story about the life of a father and a son. The two characters meet several Others along the way, but I would hesitate to call them characters (though the people are embodied by some of greatest character actors around). The characterization is left intentionally vague, adding to the parable-like nature of the action. The ‘weight’ of the film is perhaps what is ultimately its deciding factor. Some will think it’s too much and ignore the depth, others will be disappointed in making what works better as an abstract musing (in words) concrete in images that cannot properly elicit the emotional thought required of the story.

One thing I noticed that might be worth mentioning is the two competing perspectives we get by the end of the film. Again without being too specific, there are two points-of-view the boy is exposed to that basically distill down into the following two quotes: ‘You never know what will be down the road’ or ‘You have to stay off the road’. The former is what motivates The Man (Viggo Mortensen) throughout the film, in other words Hope. The later is not necessarily the opposite, but rather a different way to view the situation entirely. ‘Staying off the road’ can mean so many different things, but to me it’s not just about literally hiding from danger.

If you get through this entire film without emoting some sort of response (like, say, crying), I’m not sure if you understand the humanity involved in Drama. It will be different scenes for different people. For me, it was the Boy putting a pile of clothes back on the ground and leaving a can of food, for the first time slightly hesitantly, on top of them. And the ending, of course.
Without giving anything away, the way the film ends isn’t exactly how the book ends. For me, it was disappointing for a split second, but then I understood it. I’ll just say that I think it’s a bit more visually complex than it appears to be. And by that I mean that I think you can read it as shift in perspective away from realism and more interpretative. Molly Parker‘s face just made me lose it, though.
After having the opportunity to listen to John Hillcoat (who surely got this directing job on the basis on his exceptional previous feature The Proposition) talk about the ending, I feel better about my instinct that this film is a proper achievement. The ending encapsulates the themes the movie focuses on; family, fear, the future, etc. The acting is superb in this scene, as it is throughout. I can understand I movie like this not making any money (surely Mark Cuban would understand this), but I guess I just don’t understand why it was shunned so much critically….


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