Falling trees, cannibalism, suicide, and a long walk across post-apocalyptic America.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, and Robert Duvall. Directed by John Hillcoat. Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy.
Oh future, why are you so bleak? What happened to flying cars, food pills, jetpacks, or anything on “Star Trek?”
The apocalypse has come and Man (Mortensen) lives in a cabin with his pregnant wife(Theron). Something catches woodland areas on fire and the world goes to hell in a handbasket. She has the child, a son (Smit-McPhee), and for a while they make it while the world outside is in chaos. Eventually she can no longer make it through the desolation and, late one night, strips down to nothing and disappears into the winter night.
“The Road” is a “road movie” by most standards (people traveling across America for a singular goal) as much as it is a post-apocalyptic movie in the vein of “Road Warrior,” and “Children of Men.” This is a world in which the sky is set on gray overcast all day, every day; a world in which trees are dying and falling left and right while horrendous fires consume forests. Men have taken to cannibalism by gathering in large groups and killing any outsiders and eating them, especially any children. There is no fuel left to find and no birds fly in the sky. The place is as depressing as it is desolate.
Through the movie we have no real background on Mortensen’s character; he doesn’t even have a name (then again, neither did the horse in that America song). He’s just a man standing against the end of days; a savage Grizzly Adams who keeps the fire inside him going for reasons known only to him.
His son travels with him but aside from being his son, there’s not a lot of connection between the two. The son, just born in the beginning of this Armageddon, doesn’t remember or know days of sunlight, or birds, or any of the happier days that his father can call upon during sleep. He desperately wants to meet another kid, to go out and play, to see his mother again, or just to be happy.
Following his wife’s last words to go south and get to the coast, the two do just that. With the only narration being Mortensen’s feelings on the oblivion surrounding him we piece together now so much what happened as what the world became: animals mainly out for themselves, or just to be left alone. The duo is cold, hungry, dirty, and want to part ways with the other but need to stay together to survive. Along the way they meet an old man (Robert Duvall), packs of marauders, and a guy who steals their stuff but spares them. And the road they’re on is long, cracked, and barren.
This is more of a visual-intellectual movie than say “Children of Men,” or the “Mad Max” movies. As shown in his previous film, “The Proposition,” Hillcoat uses long takes and exposures to give the audience a feeling of being there. And also like his previous film he likes pitting characters on a quixotic quest across the barren wilds.
The film is a journey. It’s a brutal, honest character study of two people as they make their way across the landscape for the purpose of getting to the ocean. There’s nothing else to do and nothing else to live for but they try to not let it on. Meanwhile, Death itself surrounds them in the form of houses where groups host cannibalism and farms where entire families have committed suicide. It’s a story of struggle and survival between man and man and man and a crumbling environment.
Did I like this film? Yes. It’s cerebral, bleak, but beautiful in its portrayal of oblivion. Mortensen has always been a good actor and this film showcases how great he really can be. Impressive as well is newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee whp plays his son.
Watch for “Proposition” alum Guy Pearce in a small role at the end, as well as Molly Parker playing his wife.
My grade: A-