The Road Rarely Traveled

A man holds his son close, puts a gun in the young boy’s hand and teaches the child how to kill himself.

This single sad and solemn scene is simply one of many in The Road that lends to themes such as man’s desperate nature of dealing with apocalyptic disaster and the destruction of a world you once knew, all while preparing for the worst.

John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s original novel is a stunningly sad and dark film that focuses on a father and his son trying to survive in a word lost of all color and devoid of all hope for a future. Trees have toppled over to the ground, grassy fields have turned to plains of dirt and days and nights are hard to tell apart, suggesting a world without a shining sun.

The film is rather simple, as the camera follows the father (Viggo Mortensen) and the son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they move from place to place in the abandoned world, searching for a spot to sleep or the rare piece of edible food. In its truest form, The Road is a harrowing tale of survival and an attempt to mentally cope with the reality of disaster.

Interlaced with the present day, often as dreams, are flashbacks of the father’s earlier life with his wife (Charlize Theron) and son as the disaster was just beginning, or still in an earlier stage. These provide insights into the character’s minds that lend a little depth into the personalities of the characters, and the thoughts they might be dealing with.

Mortensen’s performance as the nameless father (all the characters in the film are nameless) is an outstanding one that unfortunately went uncelebrated in 2009, even though it stood out to me as one of the most emotionally provacative and interesting performances of the entire year. His dedicated and grizzly performance is of a suffering man, and he invokes every ounce of emotion, dignity and courage given to that character through his bleeding and heartbreaking portrayal.

So much is said in this film without actually saying much, a testament to both the source material by McCarthy and imagery that comes with Hillcoat’s directing abilities. This isn’t a beautiful film, but it is a marvelous one. Hillcoat’s frame of vision is spot-on as he utilizes a close, detailed and rugged style of filmmaking, one that perfectly captures the tone of the film. Scenes where bright fires erupt on dark hillsides stand out from other moments in which the father and son are trekking on the side of a decaying road overlooking a sea of desolate environment with literally nothing standing out as a beam of hope.

The entire film is aided by a stunning score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who darkly wind in and out of solemn, quiet background music that invigorates Hillcoat’s visual mood, and explosive moments of loud, screeching sound to capture times of peril, escape and danger. The two really executed this well, as their music combined with the visual imagery and apocalyptical storytelling make for a tense and moody film unlike any other.

The Road asks for a little patience from its audience, as a good portion of the film is slow, quiet and desperately sad. But that’s a good thing, as Hillcoat’s film offers up a post-apocalyptic dish extremely different than the big-budgeted and exploitative end of the world 2012 offered up earlier in the year.

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