Every year about this
time Hollywood comes out with one of those comedies about two
people who have to get home in time for the holidays. You know,
the cute, hee-hee flicks with an odd couple on a road trip and
encountering all sorts of amusing complications. At a time like
this, when the economy is buried under your breakfast remains
in the crapper, we're waging a bunch of wars and everybody's
blaming everyone else for everything, a movie like that's a
welcome diversion. I love something warm, lighthearted, fun
and that reminds us how wonderful our lives really are.
The Road isn't
that movie. I read the capsule synopsis in the paper: "In a
post-apocalyptic near future, a boy and his dad must trek across
a roiling, desolate landscape while avoiding disease, starvation
and enemies to reach the coast and any hope of civilization."
Sounded fun enough. Than I saw it was written by Cormac McCarthy
and remembered he wrote such other easy summer reads as No
Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, Blood
Meridien and The Tumbly Puppies Save Easter. I'm
not a big reader, but I did glance at the pictures in Puppies
at the barbershop a couple weeks ago, so I know this McCarthy
guy does some pretty cute shit. Those puppies really were tumbly!
They're fucking falling all over each other, out of buckets
and garden boots and, one time, out of a cupboard.
There are no tumbly
puppies in The Road. Not a single Goddamn one. I didn't
read the book, so I don't know if director John Hillcoat decided
to take them out, or if they aren't in the picture book of The
Road. But there are also no tumbly kittens, tumbly ducklings,
tumbly piglets, tumbly lambs or tumbly ponies. There's a shitload
of cannibals, but they aren't tumbly. They're just mean.
Viggo Mortensen plays
a father without a name. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays his son without
a name. Symbollic, get it? While the world burns and earthquakes
turn the soil faster than a farmer on crank, Mortensen takes
his boy from their once-idyllic apple-orchard home toward the
sea. The ground is scorched, the trees are dead. So are the
animals, the bugs and probably 99% of everyone. There is no
food except what scraps can be salvaged ten years after everything
went to shit. The boy's mother gave up hope a few years back
and walked out into the world to be raped and eaten by the savages
that will do anything to survive. The rape and flesh-eating
aren't in the movie, but if you like that sort of stuff there
are a couple German web sites that will sell you 8 mm films.
know for sure there will be other non-cannibals at the sea,
but he believes it's the most likely place they'd gather. Without
that belief, he's got shit. He presses forward, through a dreary,
bleak, polluted, dead world. Like walking to school in Gary,
Indiana. This is the central theme of The Road: whether
to give up or not. How much hope should you have left before
you give up? For a lot of us, the idea of walking a few hundred
miles through lands roamed by cannibal rapists just on faith
sounds like a pain in the ass. Nah, better to take a bullet
to the head in the comfort of your own home than make an effort
to reach a goal that may or may not exist.
Mortensen keeps going
in the face of adversity. Not unlike a tumbly puppy. It has
nothing to do with himself. After all, he's dying. Instead,
he keeps pushing because he wants there to be something at the
sea for Smit-McPhee. That's a quaint notion: that a father would
make the ultimate sacrifice just because he can't bring himself
to give up on even the slightest sliver of hope for his son.
Cute and all, but not the way we do it here in Arvada. Hell,
folks around here don't even vaccinate their kids because it's
too big a fucking hassle to load 'em in the car, and a former
Playboy Playmate said it's okay to stay home and watch NASCAR
instead. Or give the little brats vegetables because McDonald's
already prepared a meal that'll shut them up for a few hours.
On their bleak slog
through the oppressively sunless and gray countryside, Mortensen
and Smit-McPhee must do only with what they can scavenge, and
with a pistol containing two shells. Mortensen can use the two
shells on himself and his son any time he chooses, but does
not. He pushes forward toward the sea and through roving bands
of cannibals. First is a group traveling on the only mechanized
vehicle in the movie. Then, they enter a house and find a basement
full of fresh meat and must hide when the cannibal occupants
return. Later, they duck to hide as more cannibals butcher two
young women in a field. Their lone delights are discovering
a can of Coke in a beat old vending machine, and uncovering
a well-stocked bomb shelter where they gorge themselves on Cheetos
and canned pineapple for a night.
Another theme of
The Road is the constant balance of social good versus
personal good. It's pretty fucking good for you personally to
punch your neighbors in the face, but it's not so great for
society as a whole. It's pretty good for you personally to cut
other people off and get to an intersection first, but your
assholish quest to save five seconds cost the other drivers
a cumulative 20 seconds plus stress. The social and personal
good don't always mesh. That's where ethics come in. Should,
anyway. As far as I can tell, when I see two people fighting
over a Broncos throw rug at the Family Dollar, I realize there
is very little thought about social good. In The Road
this moral question comes up in the way Mortensen must choose
between long-term survival for his and Smit-McPhee and near-term
survival for a larger group. When they fid a cache of food,
the boy wants to share. This will shorten how long the food
lasts for he and Mortensen, but it will make others more comfortable
for a little while. I don't know the right answer, and I suppose
it relies a lot on whether there is a reason to survive.
The Road brings
up a couple of interesting moral concepts. The problem with
it, though, is that it is so fucking bleak for so fucking long.
Actually, I don't mind relentlessly bleak. I live in Arvada,
after all. What bores me is relentlessly monotonous. There are
only so many times that Mortensen and Smit-McPhee can narrowly
escape from cannibals before the scenes become repetitious.
Likewise, seeing them starve gets old and stops adding new dimension
pretty early into the movie. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are filthy
and tired. They are skinny and nearly numb. The boy is scared.
Director Hillcoat effectively makes this clear, and gives us
what feels like a decent facsimile of the world's future if
it were controlled by Uzbeks for a few years. Then, he keeps
repeating it. It's bleak, it's powerful, it's boring as hell.
This is exactly why the tumbly puppies tumble. If that picture
book had solely been about the part where they live in constant
terror of the dog-eating old woman who has locked them in a
tiny, shit-stained cage it would have gotten tiresome quickly.
for The Road. It's got some interesting thoughts, but
it's not as interesting to watch as it is to think about. Next
time someone adapts a McCarthy novel, I hope they choose something
with talking animals.
to tell Filthy Something?