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- Movie: The Road
- Rating: R
- Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Garret Dillahunt, Michael K. Williams and Molly Parker
- Written By: Joe Penhall
- Directed By: John Hillcoat
- Distributor: The Weinstein Company
The Road Movie Review
The Road Movie Review
By Rob Vaux
November 23, 2009
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee try to survive THE ROAD(2009).
© Weinstein Company/Dimension
Science fiction filmmaking doesn't get more profound or moving than The Road. Indeed, it embodies everything the genre is supposed to be about, using hypothetical supposition to illuminate the deepest truths of the human condition. The scenario it posits has been explored a thousand times before (the end of the world and what happens afterwards) but rarely has it seemed so chillingly believable. So too does its earnest defense of basic humanism--in our ability to hold onto our souls, even in the most appalling circumstances--resonate with raw, unvarnished strength.
We never learn what causes the film's apocalypse, but whatever it is, it's as bad as they come. Plant and animal life is essentially extinct; the trees have all died and great forests of them now crash down one by one into the ash-strewn landscape. There are no more governments or social organizations. Those few humans who survive are reduced to scavenging among the ruins, hoping for an odd can of peas… or else turning on their fellows to claim the only fresh meat available. The possibility of cannibalism deeply troubles the unnamed protagonist (Viggo Mortensen).
While he refuses to consider the possibility himself, he has a twelve-year-old son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to look after, and would rather put a bullet in both their heads than end up on someone's dinner menu. The two of them are heading south--from where or to where, we never quite know, save that things might be better where they're going. The need to find that hypothetical sanctuary counters the fatalistic realization that this may truly be the end, giving father and son alike the power to soldier on.
Director John Hillcoat envisions this world in a perpetual state of winter. The landscape remains uniformly gray, broken only by the remnants of our former civilization rapidly succumbing to the elements. Emaciated survivors prowl the fringes like living corpses, opting to survive by any means necessary and destroying who they are in the process. Like the best post-apocalyptic films, The Road recognizes perils beyond the mere physical, and with a child who literally means everything to him, Mortensen's hero is sore pressed to avoid them all. He has an instinct for survival, as evinced by earlier interactions with his wife (Charlize Theron) while the world crumbles around them. But in his battles with monstrosity, he runs the risk of becoming a monster himself: casting out decent souls who may need his help just because he can't trust them to play square with him. When blended with Mortensen's natural intensity, it creates a figure at once compelling and frightening, the perfect embodiment of this stunning global death rattle.
The overall plausibility of the vision accompanies strangely surreal moments, manifesting in a quieter subtext which ironically reinforces the film's realism. The rare occupied house takes on aspects of a fairy tale witch's abode, while approaching people look strikingly monstrous despite their comparatively normal faces. The original book by Cormac McCarthy is purportedly more overtly allegorical (I haven't read it), though it's hard to imagine his prose holding more devastation than the images on display here.
And yet even in the midst of the bleakest movie atmosphere in years, glimmers of something better arise. A junebug, a rainbow near a waterfall, an unexpected cache of food… small bursts of hope appear out of nowhere, sometimes preceding a moment of sheer horror but reminding us that the struggle is still worthwhile. That remains The Road's strongest asset: its refusal to submit to its own bleak view. It takes a huge effort to balance basic human dignity against a calamity so great: either one side or the other is bound to feel like a cop-out. But Hillcoat understands that the veracity of one hinges on the persistence of the other, binding them together in a way which strengthens both halves of the equation. It certainly doesn't make for light entertainment, but its power cannot be denied, and for all of its bleak content, the final equation proves surprisingly optimistic. Victory lies in the battle, not the resolution, and our own proclivities can either lift us through that coming night or hasten its arrival. It's all up to us: a message The Road delivers with impeccable perfection.
READ: Viggo Mortensen Interview
See the Latest Trailer for The Road HERE