McCarthy is renowned for his award winning novel turned film No Country For Old Men. Having proven himself as a novelist, McCarthy set his sights on nuclear holocaust. The Road stars Viggo Mortensen as the father, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son and Charlize Theron as the wife. The movie begins with a panoramic view of the world. The world is ruined. Much of what remains is on fire. The trees are collapsing. There is no color but grey. There is no vegetation. The world is not recovering from the nuclear blasts. Time is not helping the atmosphere improve. Simply put, the Earth is a barren wasteland incapable of improvement. This leaves us with two primary characters, their dangerous lives and many heartbreaking flashbacks.
Formerly the father and wife lived happily until the blasts hit at almost the instant her water broke and the birthing cycle began. The son entered the world at the worst possible instant. McCarthy and the directors establish the significance of his birth. He represented a ray of hope in an instantly chaotic world in which there seemed to be none. While the father stayed strong through his iron-constitution, the mother faltered. Fearing that her son’s whole life would be one tragic disaster, she broke down mentally and could not cope with living. Eventually she gave up and walked into the abyss willing to be murdered or cannibalized. This left the father with the task of not only raising a son without a future, but of surviving long enough to finish this task.
At first the father/son duo start with a supermarket shopping cart filled with whatever partially ruined necessities they can find. They are completely filthy as there is infrequent access to fresh or running water of any kind. When they find water it is completely freezing and causes a great risk of pneumonia or hypothermia. Shortly after walking on the road a medium sized truck loudly approaches. The father and son hide in the woods but they are found by one of the hooligans. After trying to trick them into moving to the truck, the father threatens the mugger with his gun, only two bullets remain. Vowing to do anything to protect his offspring, he is forced to shoot the attacker. The rest of the cannibalistic nomads search for them for hours and finally give up. Eventually they continue on their journey south to the coast with most of their possessions stolen.
The biggest problem in this wasteland is the lack of food. Without the regeneration of vegetation or the survival of grocery stores, the inhabitants are forced to scavenge for even a morsel. The father and son’s next journey lead them to a seemingly abandoned house (in the novel extreme cannibalism has occurred there). They find fresh clothes, shoes, and enough food to last for a few days. Only when they hear ominous noises do they continue on the road. Staying alive means never trusting anyone, and moving at all times to avoid detection.
After this brief respite, the two encounter an old and broken man on the road. This is the "old man" played by Robert Duvall. Beaten within an inch of his life and starving, the old man is a pathetic site. The son naturally feels affection for the poor soul and offers him one can of fruit. Barely able to consume anything without vomiting, the elderly survivor is thankful. Pitifully, the son sees him almost like a boy would a dog, something lesser, in need of care and nurturing. Sadly, the old man is not a pet, but a ruined man barely clinging to life. The father and the old man realize they must part ways.
Their journeys never cease to be harrowing. Their articles are stolen, they have to kill, avoid attackers, and stave off the freezing cold at all times. As the action concludes the father dies of sickness just after bringing his son to the coast, as promised. On his deathbed, the loving father had spent his entire life force keeping his promise. This leaves the son forlorn but hopefully experienced enough to survive and find some kind of a life even if orphaned.
Is this a tale of strength and triumph? Redemption and promise? Is McCarthy’s tale didactic, a caveat about the consequences of warfare and destruction? In The Road, the scenes are terrifying and dark. All hope is lost yet they survive and endure. Perhaps this is a testament to humanity and all that it is capable of no matter what the circumstance. The film is not as brilliant as the novel and it never could be. The book is simply too good. It is concise, grim and moving. Even so, Viggo Mortensen is nothing short of brilliant as the father. He remains in character at all times and does not overact the part. He was the perfect choice for the father. Overall I am forced to give The Road a 9/10 because there is nothing to criticize other than the novel being better which is almost par for the course.
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