The Road is a harrowing story about the struggle for survival in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world. The story follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they head south towards the coast all the while trying to avoid cannibalists and other dangers along the way. They scavenge for food everywhere they go. Food is their number one concern as they are constantly moving from place to place.
Viggo Mortensen is terrific as the ‘man’. He portrays a sense of dread and a glimmer of hopefulness at the same time. The boy is where hope is found. He is the source of strength the father relies upon to get through each day. The boy is always making sure that he is one of the good guys; that they are doing what is right; that they are keeping a shred of dignity and humanity in everything they do.
The movie’s gray tones and hues permeate the screen with a sense of desolation and dying. The look and feel of this movie is the best part about it, but it’s not a movie without its problems.
There are two things in this movie that consistently took me away from the immediacy of it all. The first are the flashbacks. Charlize Theron plays the father’s wife in flashbacks and they do very little to enhance what is going on onscreen. I really love Charlize Theron as an actress and she does a good job here, but the scenes are unnecessary to the story. They can be told in different ways. The most effective scenes are the ones when the father and son talk about the past and we don’t see it. The second thing that took away from the movie was the voiceover. I’m not a big fan of voiceover in just about any movie. There are scenes where the father is almost narrating what we are seeing. There is one scene in particular that a life and death situation is occurring and then all of a sudden a voiceover happens that talks about the struggle of the situation they are in. We are seeing the struggle and feeling the struggle. It is highly effective without the voiceover. We don’t need to hear what is going on onscreen.
All that being said, I really thought the movie was highly effective and it brought up some interesting themes. It really talked about the struggle to retain a sense of humanity and what it means to be human. Is there no hope for humans once worldwide destitution is had? It is interesting to think what I would do if I was in the situation the father and son were in. Would I be able to retain a sense of dignity and honesty and humanity or would I turn into something unrecognizable? All humans have the capacity within themselves for good or for ill. We are all selfish at our core, but there is compassion in there as well. What are we going to do with it?
It is also about the search for meaning, the search for God in this decaying world. There are very few places that we are able to see the light, or the fire, in this movie. The son is commissioned by his father to always carry the fire within him. I’m sure people take that in all sorts of different ways. It could be about survival, it could be about being a light in the midst of all the darkness around them, it could be about the ability to retain a sense of humanity, it could be about love. I think it’s a bit of all of these things. The struggle to find God in the midst of everything that is happening here is hard. It’s hard to see God in the world around them. I believe the father sees God in his son and that is one thing that keeps him going.
The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. The novel is much better than the movie and that is saying something because this is a very good movie. It’s breathlessly paced and beautifully written and I would encourage anyone to pick it up and give it a read.
We never know what happened to earth to make it the way it is and we don’t need to know. We see the struggle to keep a son safe, the struggle to survive, the struggle to retain humanity, and the struggle to find God in the midst of all decay and destruction and that is what is worth everything. These are universal human struggles taken to the extreme.