Friday, July 30, 2010

THE ROAD (2009) - I guess the apocalypse is not as much fun as I initially hoped it to be

it's a cold, cold world...leaving a long time for sleep; dead, with a long time to dream

I believe the best movies are road movies. The road is very enigmatic. The road is life.
-Monte Hellman

The road is an open metaphor, fraught with danger and discovery. A film is an accumulation of time, going from point A to B; a journey in motion. Unfortunately, when you cutaway from the road, you cut into the metaphor, so to speak. Specifically, there is the voice over at the beginning, forced in to over explain the backstory over a montage. This shifting of the context of time, introducing the film as an overarching story of the apocalypse, takes focus away from their day to day, moment to moment struggle for survival along this road, a metaphor for life many of us can identify with.

I think it would have been much more powerful to immediately thrust the viewer into this desolate land. Just because it’s a post apocalyptic tale doesn’t mean you have to sit around and explain the apocalypse. The film also seems to rely a bit too heavily on the flashbacks of their wife and mother, perhaps trying to provide an emotional center to the film. All it does is distract from the father and son relationship; the true heart of the story. However, once the movie gets going, it’s a very effective and faithful adaptation, with two excellent lead performances by Viggo and the kid (and Robert Duvall as the withered old man).

There’s gotta be a place for me, under some green growing tree…clear cool water running by, an unfettered view of the sky…but I don’t know where I’m bound.
-Johnny Cash, I Don’t Know Where I’m Bound

Father and son travel undeterred to their destination, a better place that rests on the coast. Surely things will improve if they keep moving. This hope for a better place keeps them alive enough to be able to seek out that which may not exist. Maybe it’s only a mirage, the top of the hill that Sisyphus suspects exists but cannot see, but at least this enigma gives them a reason to live. They must...keep moving...

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
-Dr. Johnson

The man and boy are a team of conflicting values. The boy still has the idealism of youth and only knows the world in which he finds himself. He lacks the horror of having watched this earthly paradise crumble into ash. Where as the man sees evil around every corner, the boy sees sadness. The father and son balance each other, and without this balance, the man’s heart would probably turn ugly and cold. His humanity is tied to this boy. The other humanoid scavengers that prowl the land, the roaming beasts, are free from the horrors of humanity (and the beauty).

An old man, hungry and cold, is desperate for a meal. Surely, the boy says, if we can make things right with the world in this small corner, the rest may follow. The man knows, perhaps cursed with a rational mind, that no such hope exists. Just a finite series of steps left to travel. Cold and dark as it is, at least we can huddle together.

The old man is blind as a bat, his mind eroded, drudging forward alone. Believing that what remained of humanity was like him, corroded and worn (or worse), he suddenly hears a child’s voice. Shocked by this sudden presence of youth, he believes the boy to be an angel and, for a moment, he thinks, surely there is hope; the cycle of humanity is not yet broken. The boy is an angel, yes, but of the earthly and practical sort, unlike the invisible demons that still hover over this wasteland, like spiritual vultures of infinite patience.

He’d carve the boy a flute from a piece of roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him…after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin…the man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.
-Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This is my favorite passage from the novel, and one of several bits of quiet introspection from the father about his son. These bits are mostly lost in the translation from book to screen, as you might imagine. This passage shows him in quiet reflection on how the child can appreciate a simple pleasure while on the outskirts of the apocalypse, living in the moment, as it were. However, the father remains resigned to time's irrevocable arc, the inexorable fate that hangs above them like a pall of gray ash.

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