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:: The Road

Most films dealing with the End of Days involve zombies, meteorites, killer viruses or the Bible. John Hillcoat’s The Road is a very different beast, as it depicts a world most likely ripped asunder by humanity’s own failings. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road is an incredibly harrowing, brutal and relentless film. While other Armageddon flicks tend to ultimately affirm humankind, The Road leaves us with the unsettling notion that, come the days following the Apocalypse, there’ll be very few people left worth salvaging, and there certainly won’t be anybody on clean up detail!

At a time in the not too distant future, an unnamed father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) push a shopping trolley full of their worldly possessions through a monochromatic, scorched landscape of brittle trees and broken cars. Their primary objective is survival, followed by a vague notion of going south to reach the coast, where things will hopefully be better. The man and boy are gaunt and filthy, their shoes almost worn through. Food is scarce, and when they find a can of Coke (the company’s most incongruous product placement yet!), it is practically treated as an archaeological object.

An overwhelming sense of fear and dread pervades the film as, throughout their freezing journey, the Man and Boy are set upon by crazed cannibals, gun toting gangs and other thieving drifters. The majority of humans who inhabit the earth appear to have lost all sense of values and social order. All that matters is a base, primal instinct to survive, whatever it takes. In flashback sequences, we learn that the Man’s wife (Charlize Theron) could not live with the idea of her son growing up in a world without order, and, giving up all hope, suicided. The Man has been left to “carry the fire” of decency, to keep alive all that is good and right and true and pass it on to his child. This desire, however, is often compromised, as he is forced to commit various acts to ensure their survival, prompting his son to ask more than once, “Are we still the good guys?”

Certainly, of all the characters in the film, it is the Boy who shows the most compassion, and gradually begins to question whether or not his father’s code of survival at all costs is the best way to be.

The performances by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee (previously seen in Romulus, My Father) are truly spectacular. They have a beautiful dynamic between them, and play out the feelings of terror and necessary determination with utter believability. It is heartening to reflect that Mortensen continues to take offbeat, challenging roles, rather than traditional hero types ala Lord of the Rings.

While The Road is at times difficult to watch, it is ultimately an extremely rewarding and unique cinematic experience. The conclusion of the film is maybe two minutes too long, veering slightly into sap territory, but by the same token, to leave the ending ambiguous may have proven too much to bear!