Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Often you will see films about in the wake of an apocalypse the collapse of society and the people who live in it. While these are natural developments, it's not often you see a film adapted from a book that reverses this aspect. In John Hillcoat's rendition of Cormac McCarthy's best-seller 'The Road' it is about the eternal bond between a father and son in a dead world. Both learn from each other, as a line in prose reads: "Each other's world entire..." and one cannot live without the other. You can guess just how hardy this dynamic is in a world where suicide is two bullets in a revolver away.
Although the cataclysm that has destroyed the Earth goes unnamed, that is not what this film is about- it is about family and the ties that bind. The rest of humanity has devolved into tribes of cannibalistic nomads, and the Man (Viggo Mortensen) takes it upon himself to raise the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to be a decent man so that he may 'carry the fire'. Although McCarthy' book is simplistically written (there is no grammar or chapter division), there is so much power in those words that translate effortlessly onto screen. While 'The Road' untowardly presents itself as a cautionary tale, it also reinforces the fact that deep love is indominatable, such as that between a parent and child.
As the two principal characters are really the only ones we see on screen for the most part, Mortensen and Smit-McPhee commit themselves to the piece. Although neither have a great many lines at a time, their connection can be seen through looks, body language and gesture. Mortensen's Man's only purpose is to protect the one he loves, and it is a job he fully intends to carry out, even if it means sparing his son from a fate worse than death by nearly shooting him several times. There are times that the Man's resolve to protect his son using extreme measures reach through the screen and grab onto your own state of mind- would you allow your flesh and blood to be raped and gradually eaten by strangers, or would you put an end to that misery by killing them yourself. They seem like extreme measures now, but if what happened in this film happened to you, could you go through with it? Mortensen and Smit-McPhee sell this relationship without ever devolving into schmultzy or ham-fisted territory.
But for every moment of moral distress we are shown, we also see the triumph of love. There is a sequence in which the Man gives his son a can of Coke. Given the son was born after the catastrophe, he has never seen or tasted such a basic luxury we take for granted now. It's so simple yet so poignant to see the look of delight on the Man's face when the son savours his drink.
Addtionally, props must be given to Charlize Theron for not only does she understand her role, she also understands the nature of it that it never comes off as thankless. While the character of the Wife was only told in flashback and never makes an appearance in the story itself, I thought it was fantastic on Hillcoat and Theron's part to incorporate the Wife into the movie, because that way you are given a clearer picture of the Man's character. Theron's final scene with Mortensen is low-key but nevertheless absolutely amazing, and I am glad Hillcoat took the risk of showing us the only other connection the Man had in the aftermath of the apocalypse and the only other reason for his existence.
As depressing as 'The Road' can be, it also meditates on how important love and human will influences who we are and how we alter our environment. The world we have been given is as fragile as glass and we need to not only take care of each other, but it as well. All of what we have can be taken away in an instant, and it really is up to us to taking nothing for granted. These are generic words, but works like 'The Road' makes you believe that it is true- there is only so much of our fate we can control, so what will happen when something out of our control turns our world upside down? It's up to us to carry the fire.