Posted by: Paul | October 6, 2010

The Road

Finally got round to watching the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s incredible book ‘The Road’ last night.

I have to admit to not having heard of the book until I knew about the movie, but I was moved to read it by a couple of short but very stark shots I saw on a movie review show which previewed it. In a world turned grey by the ash of some unseen catastrophic event, a man in rags pushes a shopping trolley across a deserted, crumbling freeway bridge followed by a boy, his son. The image was so simple, so beautiful, so full of pathos that I ordered the book straight away – I just had to know how their story was told. It was like a painting, and I’m a sucker for a bleak landscape – there’s something primal in it which draws me into the wilderness, away from humanity. It’s also why I walk up mountains, that feeling of our tiny nature within the vastness and age of the world.

The book, to which the movie clings utterly and to its very great credit, follows a man and his boy (known simply as ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’) as they try to survive in a destroyed world, foraging for whatever is left in the ruins. They’re heading south, to the coast, as much to have a goal to keep them going as for any hope that there might be something waiting for them there. The Boy was born after the cataclysm takes place and has no knowledge of the world before. There are no more animals, vegetation and rivers are dying, the trees are collapsing as the earth turns to dust.

It’s one of those incredibly empathetic ‘what would you do?’ situations, and I think it’s because I am a father growing ever closer to his son that I identify with the story so much and find it so moving. The Man draws his strength to keep going from his will to keep The Boy alive, at any cost. But he has to be prepared to do what’s necessary to avoid a fate worse than death if they were to fall into the hands of the roving gangs who roam the roads, preying on anyone they can find, as sporadic clusters of people clinging to life are all that remains.

The film, as with the book, is a singular vision. It’s probably the best on-screen representation of the world of a novel that I’ve ever seen, a world coated in a thick layer of ash with a backdrop of smouldering ruins of buildings, boats listing in dry riverbeds, the rusting carcass of a jacknifed lorry abandoned on a highway doubling as a bed for the night.

It’s not a cheerful film, as you might expect. There’s almost no colour, and when it switches to the occasional flashes of life before, the shock of the technicolour emphasises what has been lost. Every tiny glimpse of the world as it used to be – a piano in an old house, sofa cushions with detailed embroidery, a dusty coke can falling from a broken vending machine – is mind boggling for the Boy and spirit crushing for the Man. Viggo Mortensen (fast becoming one of my all time favourite actors) and Kodi Smitt-McPhee conjure a beautiful relationship, shot through with the pain of the knowledge that all things must pass. Not a dry eye in the house, but ultimately a worthwhile, even life-affirming experience.

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