The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Lea Encarnacion.  Viewed at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood during the AFI Film Festival, 2009.

The RoadBased on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road tells the story of a man’s journey through a post-apocalyptic America with his son, trying to survive and steer clear of cannibals and encountering other survivors like himself.  The film is about the struggle to survive and is a reflection and a metaphor for the long, hard road of life.  Viggo Mortensen’s performance is arrestingly brilliant in this film, while Charlize Theron plays a smaller, supporting role as the man’s wife.

The Road is directed by John Hillcoat, whose past films include The Proposition, To Have And To Hold, and Ghosts… of the Civil Dead.  Known for his powerful and disturbing style of directing dramas and frequently collaborating with musician Nick Cave, the Australian writer/director has successfully brought the screen adaptation to life, pleasing both audiences who have previously read the novel and those who have not.

After an unexplained catastrophe somewhere in America, a smoky darkness envelops the ravaged and burnt earth, where a man trudges along with his son in tattered clothing, homeless through gray barren forests.  They come across a house while looking for food, where a horrific scene of rotting corpses, some still half alive, awaits them although they are able to escape.  Interweaving scenes throughout the movie recall the past where the story of the man’s wife is told.  Through these flashbacks we learn that his wife couldn’t handle their family situation and walked off into the darkness, never to be seen again.  Nevertheless, the man’s love for his son remains strong and he protects him throughout the journey where their father-son bond is the main focus of the film.

They encounter other people, while trying to find food and shelter and figuring out whether to help them out or take their belongings for themselves.  In one scene, the man decides to swim out to a ship in order to search for supplies, leaving his son alone on the beach.  When he comes back ashore, everything has been stolen and they rush to the man who stole their belongings.  Tense and against his son’s pleas for him to stop, the man forces him to strip and takes away everything, leaving the other man naked and shivering in the cold.

This leads to the questions of what really are the most significant things in our lives?  Is it our morals, principles, our humanity?  Our relationships, our family? When you face a situation like that will you choose to help others or fight them to get yourself ahead?

The bleak, colorless and barren landscape is so visually stunning that the man and his son, along with the whole audience cannot look away.  The emptiness and desolation reminds me of films like The Mist, Silent Hill and other ‘end of the world’ drama/horror flicks.  The major difference is that this film has meaning and a real message that anyone can take in and learn from.  The Road is deeply moving, amazingly well done and definitely a must see for any Viggo Mortensen fan.

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