I watch lots of movies (old and new) weekly, mostly at home, on cable TV, Netflix and Amazon primarily, usually as I’m working on S&A, but I rarely write about what I screen, if only because I don’t have the time. But I’ll make a concerted effort to do so from now on, and publish here. Consider them quickies, starting with “The Road.”
This is one terribly bleak film. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; after all, it’s a post-apocalyptic tale in which the world as we know it has been destroyed by an unnamed cataclysmic event, that apparently killed off much of civilization and almost all life on earth. The few human survivors include a father and his young son, played believably by the always reliable Viggo Mortensen, and new-comer Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The inseparable pair, visibly affected by the destruction around them, covered in layers of sooted, tattered clothing, traverse the barren landscape, morning and night, their few belongings in tow, constantly searching for sustenance where there’s none to be found, while fending off other survivors who are very much in the same predicament – some who’ve turned to cannibalism.
Socio-economic class be damned; level of education means nothing; money buys nothing; men and women are animals, devoid of any human attributes or civilizing influences. Man has become beast – purely instinctive, concerned with one thing, and one thing only – its survival, by any means necessary.
However, this isn’t your typical end-of-the-world Hollywood tale; there are no zombies, no vampires, no cyborgs, no viruses. Just human beings like you and I, who find themselves alone and more desperate and helpless than they’ve likely ever been, in a time and place where death would actually be a luxury. There’s no trust; you’re suspicious of every single person you cross paths with, as they are of you; and you carry a weapon in the event that you need to protect yourself and/or your belongings, or worse, kill yourself if you can’t, otherwise risk becoming fodder for someone else’s rotisserie.
And that’s the journey on which we accompany father and son for almost 120 minutes. Days and nights seem to blur into one another, and one isn’t always immediately certain of how much time has passed from one moment to the next, which can be frustrating, but which makes sense. So your patience might be tested if you’re the type who prefers a “tour guide” and the frequent on-screen jolt to stay involved, as there really aren’t many. A few moments of tension exist, specifically when the pair does encounter other survivors; however, those scenes are ephemeral, and even somewhat anticlimactic.
Ultimately, it’s a father’s quest to protect his son in the face of hellish adversity; and also to prepare him for the possibility of a time when father succumbs to disability or death, and son is left alone with no one else to rely on but himself. Despite a few flashes of joy, or more like relief, as in when they discover a cellar stocked with food, nothing gets better; the journey becomes increasingly burdensome, and there are no signs of improvement in, or recovery from the apocalypse that surrounds them. Survival is relentless struggle.
“What would I do?,” I kept asking myself, if I was one of them. Put a pistol in my mouth and pull the trigger, as father demonstrated to son in preparation for what may eventually come to pass; or continue “carrying the fire?”
What would you do?
Contributing bit performances by Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce and Michael K. Williams are mostly stellar; however, I couldn’t help but cringe a little during Michael K. Williams’ single scene, towards the end of the film, when he’s forced, at gun point, by Viggo’s character, into a rather compromising position. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll obviously know what I’m referring to. No, I’m not crying “racism;” suffice it to say that it’s revealing how certain images seem to take on a completely new meaning, when skin color is introduced.
I’m a black man, and it is through that lens that I see the world around me – including film art. Therefore, I will likely, instinctively, react differently to certain kinds of stimuli, compared to a white man, whose life experiences vastly differ from mine. It’s not a matter of whether it’s right or wrong; it just is.
I also wondered what the film would look like if this was a tale about a black father and his son – a rarity.
But I still recommend “The Road;” just keep in mind that this is Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tale, not Richard Matheson’s.
And don’t be fooled by its trailer which I embedded below. It’s not the non-stop action/thriller that it purports to be.