‘The Road,’ movie review

Image: Dimension Films

Image: Dimension Films

The Road, opening November 25, is the film adaptation of the Pulitzer prize winning novel of the same name by southern author, Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, which also won a Pulitzer). Set in the United States, post-an unnamed apocalypse, The Road is the story of The Man (Viggo Mortensen, LOTR trilogy, A Brief History of Violence) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who are surviving moment by moment with a goal of making it to “the coast” where they hope things will be better. The film follows their encounters with roaming bands of cannibalistic savages, the struggle to find food and, for The Man, the frustration of flashbacks to much better times. The Road is an early Oscar contender on the strength of Mortensen’s intense, driven performance. This is not Aragorn redux; it is a multi-layered turn in the lead role.

With no explanation given, the earth has been reduced to a fire-prone, earthquake producing disaster area. All animals are gone, food is the most valuable commodity (as evidenced in one scene by a cash box still containing money, all of which is trodden on) and survival is a goal second only to remaining “good.” Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) takes us to places most would rather not go as it, in the best tradition of the medium, causes us to consider what we would do in those same situations: Would we learn to eat bugs? Would be stoop to eating humans? Would we share with those in need if we knew our own resources were limited? Would be use our last bullet to kill our child if the only alternative was him being taken by cannibals? Would we disappear into the elements so the remaining supplies would last longer for the ones who remain?

Charlize Theron as The Woman in the film version of Cormac McCarthy's, <i>The Road</i>

Charlize Theron as The Woman in the film version of Cormac McCarthy's, The Road

There is, without doubt, a not so subtle message here regarding the environment. Whatever the apocalypse, the world has been rendered drab and lifeless, devoid of its remarkable beauty. Things everywhere are blanketed with ash or covered by ashen clouds. When looking at a closely guarded map, The Boy traces his finger across the ocean and asks, “Is it blue?” The man replies, “It used to be.” A final arrival at the coast finds only gray, sediment filled waters bounded by a trash covered, thief trolled beach. While many conservatives scoff at such a notion, a statement by Tony Campolo bears considering: “Ecological destruction interferes with and silences the worship of God.” If the heavens declare the glory and God and the skies proclaim His marvelous craftsmanship, what would happen if that declaration and proclamation were muted by calamity? The Road does an excellent job of giving a visual representation of a creation that is “groaning and travailing” until now (Romans 8).
The Man and The Boy, with cart, in <i>The Road</i>

The Man and The Boy, with cart, in The Road

Themes in The Road are far and wide and one that intrigues is how people will respond to other people in times of utter hopelessness and futility. Will Christians “love their neighbor” who is starving all the while knowing where a store of food is located? Will people become tribal, closing ranks with those who think like, look like and act like them to the opposition of everyone else? Would thievery become acceptable in the eyes of God, since no one would despise a man who stole bread to satisfy his soul when he was starving (Proverbs 6:30)?

Early on, The Man tells The Boy,

There are not many good guys left, that is all. We have to watch out for the bad guys. And we have to talk. Always. We have to just, you know, keep carrying the fire.

“Carrying the fire” is an image that hits home with The Boy as we see him remain all that we ourselves would hope to be, while watching The Man struggle with all that we would likely become.

Followers of Christ need to be aware, this is a dark and sometimes disturbing film. As our host, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary said, “This isn’t Fireproof. It’s No Country for Kirk Cameron.” It is a tale that uses the most base elements of fallen humanity and the ultimate corruption of a fallen creation to teach the value of hope, love, purity and sacrifice.

The Road is rated R for violence, language, nude rumps and thematic elements including murder, torture and cannibalism. It also stars Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Momento), Michael Kenneth Williams (Gone Baby Gone, Law and Order) and Robert Duvall (oh, just start naming films).

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • Jay

    I loved that book and I can’t wait to see the movie. The whole time I was reading it, I kept asking myself whether I would respond as a Christian or a survivalist or some degree of both if I were in that situation. The Road made me wrestle with the degree to which I truly love my neighbor as myself. I’m certain that’s the goal at which Cormac was aiming.