The Road (Dimension Films, R)

film_the-road_sm.gifWhile the apocalypse and Viggo-looking-like-Jesus stuff is surely not accidental, The Road is maybe not as religious as it might seem.

 

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Given how many times its release has been pushed back and how ho-hum its reception was upon its premiere at this year’s respective Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, it seems like most people have kind of lost interest in seeing the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Oprah pick/bestseller/Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road. And while the film is maybe not the masterpiece it could have been, it is still quite good, given the tricky subject matter it comes from—McCarthy’s known for being spare with his prose (to put it gently).

The Road largely takes place after some international incident which can probably most accurately be described as the Apocalypse, where very few humans are still alive, and those who are have no qualms with looting buildings, killing people, cannibalizing and what have you. The main characters of The Road are unnamed: a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who may be the last people alive who have a shred of decency and kindness in them (the father refers to this as "the fire"). And while in other hands this would have become a film about how the man and his son teach people how to behave in a civilized fashion once again, instead here it is a tale of them simply trying to stay fed and not get eaten themselves.

Australian director John Hillcoat is at the helm here, and it’s a good thing that the producers of the film got him instead of Ron Howard or some shit—this could have been so much worse. Hillcoat, best known for 2005’s The Proposition, finds the right aesthetic for the film: Everything is grey and dead and covered in dust, indoors and outdoors. All of the pillagers roaming the streets are appropriately threatening-looking, despite being completely emaciated and sickly. (They all look an awful lot like Dylan Baker in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, actually.) The only exception to this rule of appearance is of course the man and his son. The man veers toward looking like Jesus a lot of the time, and the boy looks pretty much like a regular old boy in a movie, except maybe a little paler.

And while the apocalypse and Viggo-looking-like-Jesus stuff is surely not accidental, The Road is maybe not as religious as it might seem. Again, McCarthy is known for invoking religious imagery in his work, much in the way musician Nick Cave, who with Warren Ellis co-wrote the score to the film, likes to use religious imagery in the lyrics of his songs. In either case, it’s hard to pin down what exactly they’re getting at, but it sure is fun to come up with theories. For example, despite all of the talk of "carrying the fire," Mortensen’s character is really only a good guy by contrast to everyone else in the film; there certainly are times in the film where he could stand to be a lot more Christ-like. And in this regard, The Road looks set to stand up well to repeated viewings, offering something new with each time you watch it, which is really the best you can realistically hope for from most any movie. | Pete Timmermann

 

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