The Road – Film Review

The Road is the antithesis of 2012. Both explore the idea of the end of the world, the destruction of humanity, and the theme of preservation at any cost. With 2012 you get a cast of thousands, CG destruction at every turn, and a much broader sci-fi storyline. It’s a much more commercialized film for a mass audience who loves their popcorn flicks big and loud. The Road, however, takes a smaller and much more intimate approach that those who hate movies like 2012 will find refreshing.

2012 shows us how the world will end. The Road primarily takes place after humanity and life as we know it has died off and only a few survive. It’s a bleak picture one that many people may not want to see due to the grim nature of the film.

Originally envisioned by No Country for Old Men author Cormac McCarthy, both novel and film look at the thematic issues of life, humanity, and survival in the direst of circumstances. The Road works on myriad levels both literal as well as figurative that take the audience on their own exploration of humanity and its capabilities.

[SPOILER ALERT!]

Father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are literally on a road that will eventually lead them toward the coast. While they do wander from the road in order to find food, shelter, and provisions, the father’s eye is ever trained on the road that will hopefully lead him and his son to a safer place.

The film, as does the novel, presents the concept of the road in a figurative and metaphorical sense as well. Life is a journey down a difficult and dangerous road. Our choices can lead us down a multitude of paths. Our destiny is determined by the choices (i.e. roads we choose to follow).

This is the real journey the man wishes to instill in the boy. Their trek to the coast is merely toward the hope of a safer place to be. But the man also wishes for his son to make choices and decisions after his passing that will ensure his son remains one of the good guys.

In the post-apocalyptic environment presented in the film, the father sees people in distinct black and white categories: the good guys and the bad guys. There is no gray area to contemplate or analyze. As a result, he and his son flee from any and all people they encounter, even threatening and killing those who pose more serious and dire threats to the safety and well-being of his son.

The son acts as the father’s moral compass; guiding him to make the choices he no longer feels he can make regarding people he meets along the road. Despite the carnage, blood, and death the boy has seen over his years of travel with his father, his innocent nature and inner-fire allow him to still see others for the humans that they are and not always as vicious and deadly threats.

Who are the good guys? There aren’t many to be found along the road. An old man (Robert Duvall) provides a glimpse at one of the few “good guys” that remain. After him, the boy encounters a family (Guy Pearce, Molly Parker) who takes him in after his father’s passing. There’s little indication that anyone is good. And the father is steadfast in his belief that all others beside he and his son are the bad guys.

And the bad guys truly are bad. They are headhunters. Cannibals. Men and women who eat other humans as a means of survival. Who hunt them for sport. This reality is touched upon numerous times throughout the story. Blood-soaked snow. Human skulls on stakes. A bunker filled with naked men and woman who are later slaughtered and eaten by their captors. It’s no wonder the father fears for he and his son’s safety 24/7.

I was surprised at how many known actors appear mall roles in the film. Unlike a comedy where cameos are abundant for laughs, these actors deliver powerful performances in a limited amount of screen time. Along with Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron appears in flashback as the man’s wife. Each one brings the full force of their talents to light, and evokes emotional depth is a short period of screen time.

I was very impressed with this film. It’s not for everyone to be sure. It does have a lot of silent moments. It does deal with some heavy subject matter, and death is all around the characters we follow. If you enjoyed Children of Men or other more serious post-apocalyptic films, The Road should definitely be seen.

I was also surprised that Dimension Films was a part of this project. Dimension is primarily known for teen slasher movies (the Scream franchise, Halloween, Black Christmas) and spoofs (the Scary Movie franchise, Superhero Movie), so it’s refreshing to see them take a risk and make a more substantive film for a different audience.

While it may not be a uplifting film filled with hope and happiness (it is considered one of the most depressing films of 2009, click here for the list), The Road is a well-crafted and thought-provoking movie that will make you think about the human condition and the lengths men and women will go to in order to survive.

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