Being There

Ruminations on Music, Film and Culture


Film Review: The Road

The Road (dir. John Hillcoat)

The Road (dir. John Hillcoat)

It is almost heartbreakingly naive to believe that in a world so ruined and stripped of life and true humanity – a world so obviously over – any amount of goodness could really tip the balance. One could argue that only a child could hold this belief, especially one whose moral compass clearly has two points: good and bad.
The means to the world’s end in The Road (based on the Pulitzer prize winning book by Cormac McCarthy) is never explained, but after the apocalypse, this child (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his father (Viggo Mortensen) journey to the southeastern coast of the US, keeping to the land off the beaten path. Stumbling and starved, the two plod on through a cold, dangerous and unrelenting environment, dodging thieves, cannibals and their own fear.

Despite their desperate love for each other, there are momentary bits of friction here as the boy inevitably grows and matures in a way his father had intended but for which he had not prepared. The boy doesn’t know where he’s going, but because he’s never known what the world used to be, he refuses to believe that this is all that the world is. Although we feel the boy cannot possibly hope to triumph over what the end has wrought, it is in the nature of a beloved child to aspire. His father, however, does remember the time before this life, remembers when their family was complete and his wife and the boy’s mother (Charlize Theron) was alive, and he knows that he’ll never have that again. While the father’s prime directive is to keep his son alive and safe, the boy has set his sights on remaining good and true, carrying “the fire” for them both.

The onus to relate the pair’s journey and their encounters along the way is not placed on pulsing, retina-jabbing special effects. All of the wreckage and ruin seen here is genuine footage from the aftermath of actual disasters and most of the film is shot in some surprisingly desolate locales in Pennsylvania, of all places. Likewise, this is not so much a story as a jagged, character-driven depiction of a fragment of a family’s life, broken in many ways.

One would hope that when faced with the end of the world, he or she would react with decency and humanity, that when encountering others fighting for their lives, one would extend oneself in a grand gesture of compassion. Indeed, survival and societal rebirth lies in hope and mercy, in the alleviation of the suffering of others, and a reminder of this often comes in the form of a child’s hope. It has been opined that the film does not always capture the desperate and immediate intensity of the father/son relationship, but it’s important to remember that this is not a big budget disaster movie, or even a disaster movie: this is a study in surviving ongoing, post-disaster emotional trauma. There are many layers, many undercurrents; Hillcoat, Mortensen and the impressive Smit-McPhee have seen to that and their work here deserves attention and appreciation. The film should be given further examination, perhaps long after the credits roll. It’s certainly worth that much.

One Response to “Film Review: The Road”

  1. December 3rd, 2009 at 1:42 am


    I like that you separate fate from destiny. There is something to be said for trying to account for the idea that we can sometimes fail to fulfill our destiny. – go to my favorites!!!

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