Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Road

A funereal silence pervaded the cinema as the spectators flocked out as the credits rolled for the film 'The Road'. Set in a post-apocolyptic world, the film chronicles the journey of a father and son as they head 'south' / towards the coast in an effort to stay alive in a world where nothing else lives except a very small number of unlucky survivors like themselves.
The opening scene showed a beautiful summer garden with a Barranquilla Golden Rain tree, a pink cherry blossom-like flower and the smiling face of a beautiful woman, Charlize Theron, and then shot to a scene with father and son, clothed in rags, faces smeared with dirt, dragging a trolley along a dark, grey bumpy road, ravaged by the hand of death. The contrast is striking, and on one or two other occasions, we are given a glimpse into life pre-apocolyse, which is done to great effect: we are not given too much of the 'good life' as we must endure some of the journey with the father and son along their bleak and hopeless path, yet what we do see is familiar: it is colour, life, hope; and it reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to look after all of creation, which in essence is the central message of the film.
The roles of father and son were ably played by Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and as they journey together, we can see their strong bond, intensified by the situation in which they have to live. The boy, it seems, knew no other life, and we see his innocent awakening to various aspects of the 'old world' for example his first taste of coca cola, after they find a can in an old house, and how the father shared the moment, overcome with love for his child, and sorrow that such a paltry treat should mean so much to the child. Along the way, they are met with situations where they grapple with life's usual dichotemys: good versus bad, right versus wrong. We see how the son is like a god to the father: he is his conscience, his hope, his good angel and his reason for enduring, and indeed along the way, the son, seeing the good in others, is the one who forces the father to act in a humane and loving way.
It is a film that leaves a very strong impression, and one of the most shocking scenes was one where father and son happened upon an old deserted house, and on forcing open the basement, they find it full of naked, wailing prisoners being held hostage as food for their captors. There are numerous other encounters with cannibalism, but this is certainly the most graphic, exposing us to the sheer horror, of Cormac McCarthy's imagined world's end.
While the dialogue in the film is very strong, especially in the father-and-son scenes, and the son in particular has a very soft but high-pitched cry, expressing the intense emotion, voiceover is also used in parts to good effect, adding some distance between 'them' and 'us', and having something of a calming effect on us. However, for much of the film, we are right there, and I believe that that is the intention of Hillcoat, the director, as after all, it's meant to cause some discomfort, to arouse questions in us about our own life and fate.
How the Apocolypse actually happened is not revealed but this is not the point of the film. Instead, its aftermath is the present time in the film, and the punishing, bleak wasteland is so utterly abysmal that we feel the despair of the father and son as they trudge hopelessly on the road to nowhere. They are each of them alone, as they cannot fully confide their terror and fear to the other, and we, the viewers are alone in our own fears and existential questions. It is with relief that we returned to our present time and space, with a new-found respect for every thing alive (though I wasn't too enamoured when a wasp landed on my shoulder later that evening!) and the silence of the parting crowd was a fitting tribute to the power of the film and all involved in its realisation.

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