Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Road (2009)

     Seeing as how I stopped reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006) on page 82 – the bookmark is still in it – I wasn't expecting to be drawn in to the movie adaptation of the story.  I knew that it had some elements that I would like, but it is extremely hard to do the end of the world justice on film.  So much of it would be neglected refuse, which as the Fukushim Daiichi mishap has shown us is thoroughly depressing, but not overwhelming.  It makes it look like the end of the world is something that could be cleaned up. 
     Also insanely hard to do on film is conveying how repulsive and paradigm shifting cannibalism – and even more, the threat of cannibalism – should be.  The Road (2009) presents it as just the threat of other people, and while that may be a fine commentary on just how removed from society the Man and the Boy have become, it does little to engage the viewer.  Because they are removed, it makes little sense to have the Man giving a tiresome, droning voice over narration.  It also doesn't help that the Man has nearly nothing to say that isn't shown or implied by the action of the film.
     I mostly feel bad for the actors involved in this project.  Viggo Mortensen is never going to top his Lord of the Rings (2001-03) role – because Aragorn really is the shit when it comes to fantasy characters – but he isn't given much to do here rather than look weary.  Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is much better in Let Me In (2010), never manages to capture the tone of a child who was raised in the ruined world.  He seems like he was dropped off from a normal suburb to spend time with destitute, homeless dad in the land of burned forests.  Robert Duvall gets a scene, as does Guy Pearce, but given their big screen credentials, I have to wonder if they were eager to be in a McCarthy story and didn't spend enough time on set to realize that nothing was materializing.
     The destroyed world is inconsistent.  The blackened, dying forests look imposing, as do the gray, lifeless rivers and sicker looking sea.  But the houses and buildings seem to have no ash or signs of the fire that destroyed everything (maybe it had all been washed into the rivers with the last of the water pressure?).  There isn't much of a sense of distance imparted, or insight on the techniques that have kept the duo alive so long.  Having the Man explain it as they travel again reinforces the notion that the Boy is on the worst field trip ever.
     Some day I may get around to trying to read the book again.  But I know that I have no need to watch the movie a second time.  I think – and I could be wrong – that the mistake here was in trying to be too faithful scenes from the book while abandoning the spirit of the book.  This isn't about a man keeping his son alive; it is about a man not knowing what to do with the time between the end of the world and his death, and keeping he and his son alive because it seems like the right option.  It feels hollow and simplistic, and that is never a good thing for a film that aspires to be art.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa! I never saw it that way. But I've always found it overrated, merely decent. Great review!