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Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere

by Dave Durbach / 28.01.2010

Films dealing with the Earth’s demise tend to give the big-A the Hollywood once-over: CGI tidal waves, surround-sound explosions, panic in the streets, beautiful girls screaming, and plenty of room for the triumph of the human spirit, sappy love interests and claptrap patriotism.

What happens next though, after the storm has subsided and man is left to his own devices on a dead planet? Revered American author Cormac McCarthy pondered the question and came up with The Road, a novel that won him the Pulitzer in 2007. Of course we all know a good book does not a movie make, but considering the last McCarthy novel to be adapted for the screen was the Oscar-magnet No Country for Old Men, news of The Road’s imminent translation was quickly hailed as a sure thing.

And that it is. The Road tells the story of a world utterly without hope. All plants and animals have died. The sun provides no warmth; winter grows ever colder. Earthquakes rack the land, felling forests of long-dead trees. The few humans that remain are forced to scrounge for what little food remains, certain only of their impending death. Cannibalism is rife. The only common emotions binding people are desperation, fear and mutual distrust. These are the circumstances in which the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) set off on a southerly journey to the coast, in the hope of finding something better there, armed with a gun with two bullets (for suicide as much as self-defence), pushing a trolley of their belongings, sleeping in abandoned cars, scavenging through desolate homesteads in search of food and shelter. They encounter some strangers along this road: some dangerous, some benign, all without hope. In doing so, the Man, intent on providing for his son, has to counter the boy’s naïve desire to care for the strangers, aware that sharing will only hasten their own demise.

The Road

Will they reach their destination, and even if they do, what can the future possibly hold for father and son, in a world where all hope is dead?

Depressing but by no means disappointing, dark but illuminating, the film offers sharp insight into the animal side of our human nature, and a thought-provoking glimpse at what our planet could look like one day soon. It’s the American debut of Australian-born director John Hillcoat, better known for his work on music videos and documentaries with the likes of Depeche Mode, Bush and INXS. He and Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (Twilight) paint a suitably bleak landscape of charred wilderness and deserted buildings, with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis handling the score. The film also features performances from Charlize Theron (as the Man’s suicidal wife), Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce.

The Road opens at cinemas on the 5th of February.

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  1. Paul M says:

    I haven’t yet seen the film but read the book two years ago. Either the film has misinterpreted the novel (which is unlikely since McCarthy was involved in reviewing the pre-release – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jan/04/the-road-cormac-mccarthy-viggo-mortensen) or this reviewer is deeply mistaken. It’s certainly not without hope. The situation is bleak, yes, and things will never again be as they were, but the novel talks pointedly about the fire that is carried within them, as it has always been. That fire is the ability to keep going despite how things seem.

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  2. Dave D says:

    Be that as it may, this is the impression I got from the movie itself, having not read the book. Constant flashbacks throughout the film to the suicidal wife (as far as I now she has a more prominent role in the movie than in the book) and a focus on the Man’s mounting ill health as the journey progresses, to me at least, highlight the sense of hopelessness. Perhaps seen through the eyes of the kid, there is a sense of hope in the movie, but the kid’s hope is naive and not reflective of his circumstances, and I wouldn’t call him the film’s main protagonist (though others might disagree). The film’s ending doesn’t change this for me (though again, others are welcome to disagree). It’s a question of the viewer seeing the glass as half full (you) or half empty (me), rather than anyone being “mistaken”. Though the movie is supposedly a fairly close take on the book – McCarthy’s intentions (particularly regarding the “fire” inside) are not as clear on film as they may be on paper – a consequence of the director’s attempts to translate complex and abstract emotions while remaining subtle and without resorting to corny “never give up” devices. The results of this will always be subjectively received. It’s an interesting point though. Thanks. Watch the movie and then see if you still feel the same way.

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  3. dylan says:

    David, there’s a part in the book where there’s a baby being roasted on a spit, and another scene where people are being kept in a basement so that they can be farmed and eaten limb by limb. Was any of this included in the film?

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  4. Dave D says:

    ja the basement scene is there. don’t think the baby braai made it though.

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