Several years after a catastrophic event has destroyed all of America’s – and maybe the whole world’s – flora and fauna, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are on a desperate journey through this barren, cold, and gray new world. They are led by a vague shimmer of hope that there might still be a better place somewhere. “We have to keep carrying the fire,” the father tries to motivate his young son, who has seen real plants and animals only in his ragged picture book. Here and there, the morbid silent solitude is disturbed by something far worse – bands of surviving humans, just as much on the verge of starvation as father and son and, to make things worse, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
The movie The Road (2009) is based on the novel of the same name by American author Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote No Country for Old Men). Among several other honors, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. But does an award-winning novel translate into a good movie? Although the movie received overall positive reviews (Time Magazine called it the “best novel of the decade”), some film critics disagree, criticizing that the movie lacks the disturbing power of the novel. As someone who has not read the novel, I still find the movie quite distressing and can tell you that it is well worth watching.
In all its painful realism, The Road is a one-of-a-kind end time movie that is not grounded in a stark fascination with adventure. At no point did I think, “Well, the world has ended but that is actually really cool!” Instead, the movie has a powerful, depressing, stomach-turning effect. The use of color is amazing as are the flashbacks granting us a peek into the man’s pre-apocalyptic life with his wife (Charlize Theron). Also, the movie resists the temptation of manipulating its audience into feeling overly attached to the main characters. Father and son remain rather distant and nameless, yet we can’t help feeling something – a lot, actually.
The movie left me with strange, uncanny, and uncomfortable, feelings – something I consider good for a movie of that genre. But also grateful, at least the first couple of times I went to the fridge after having seen it. “Wow, I’m glad you’re here!” I wordlessly mouthed to the food.
I can’t give any recommendations about whether you should read the novel before watching the movie, but here you can take a look at the trailer and decide for yourself. Don’t let the presentation fool you into believing The Road is an action movie. It absolutely isn’t.