Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael K. Williams, Charleze Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce
The Road is impeccably acted, well-directed and with an excellent screenplay. Even so I can never watch this movie again. My heart could not handle it. Taking a view of the apocalypse to the point where all plants, animals and fish are gone, humans are that are left are either scavengers, cannibals, or targets of cannibals. A typical day is pushing a cart full of your possessions along side of a road, hoping to find something to eat, hoping to avoid being something to eat, in general hoping to avoid others. Good times, indeed.
In this tragic world we find single father, played by Mortenson, and his boy,
played by Smit-McPhee, trying hard as they can to carry on, with the smallest semblance of progress. The Man will even read to his Boy when they find a book in their travels. Through flashbacks we find that The Man had a wife that was pregnant when the world started running down. They lasted through the birth and a few years beyond, but his wife (Theron) had no stomach for this way of living and one day walks out of their life to her certain doom. The Man, desperate to keep her, had convinced her to hang on ’til now, but he can’t keep her from leaving and
literally half of his heart is ripped out of his chest. Mortenson and Theron are so convincing at this crucial point, it is thoroughly exhausting to experience.
Regardless of the pain, or perhaps because of it, he pushes his son harder each day toward the sea. For some unknown reason, they are heading southward, and pushing towards the sea. The Man hopes it will be warmer and that they might find something alive that does not want them dead.
Along the way, they are forced to use one of their two remaining bullets on a man who is part of a larger group of hunters. Killing him, they escape and then move on. They find a single can of Coke at a mall and make it more appealing than any soft drink I have ever seen in that the father wills that his son drink it due to his never having had one before. They find The Man finds his childhood home, and the boy thinks he finds a companion of his own age, if only for a moment, while waiting outside. His father prevents The Boy from making contact at this point, and you realize that there is something in the boy seriously clinging to hope for a life he has never been allowed to see in his young life. The Man tells him that someone “has to worry about us,” meaning, his life will always be this way.
After a harrowing experience in a seemingly abandoned house, they narrowly escape with their lives and add a new dimension of hell to their already depraved collection of memories. At this point, they find a bomb shelter next to a house on a lake. A real boon, this allows the family to eat, sleep, and clean themselves. For many days, they live in comfort relative to their conditions. The take this time to give thanks, reassuring themselves that they are “the good guys” and that they are the ones who “carry the fire.”
This is too good to last, of course. Hearing a dog’s bark in the distance above the shelter, the father decides with dogs could be humans and it is time to move on. From this point, the journey takes a decidedly dark turn. I tell most of this story to give you a real taste for what you can expect to encounter while watching this film. There is a glimmer of hope, so faint that one can barely see how it could sustain a human soul.
I was reminded of the book, The Metamorphosis, by Kafka while watching the waning moments of the film. In it, Gregor’s existence in his present incarnation had become such a burden on his mind and the mind of his family, he failed to understand that it was he, clinging to his idea of how to survive, that held the rest of his love ones in jeopardy. When, in a moment of crisis, his son shouts back to his father ‘I am the one that has to worry about us,‘ you understand the true nature of the father’s literally smothering love over his boy. Only then does the viewer understand why his son is free as the credits roll.
Hillcoat, director of the excellent western, The Proposition, has a relentless nature to his film-making. He does not hold back for American sensibilities. This is an effective way to cover the source material, which is a Joe Penhall script based on a Cormac McCarthy novel. But keeping the foot on the gas pedal of despair only works for so long until you lose all but the bleakest of souls. I don’t know where the line is drawn, but one certainly can tell when that line is crossed into oblivion.
(***1/2 out of *****)