The Road is one of the rare post-apocalyptic film done right, an adaptation that maintains the spirit of its source material. The viewer of the film that has also read the book of the same name may have one structural grip though: There is not even a hint of what happened to the world in the book. In the film: “The clocks stopped at 1:47. A bright like flowed by a series a low concussions.” It was better left ambiguous, no one knowing what happened (including the viewer), the mind filling in the rest. By those lines of dialog, the viewer can make a n educated, singular guess as to the cause of the world-wide cataclysm.
After reading The Road but before seeing the film, I watched on A&E a program that entailed ten ways the world could be destroyed, I believe it was naturally. Three of those ways discussed could have been what brought destruction to the earth in Cormac McCarthy’s tell as there is so much insalubrious ash in the air it is blocking out the sun. One of the ways included an asteroid slamming into the earth and the other was an supervolcano erupting, spewing ash into the upper atmosphere, enough dust to block out the sun, star light, and the moon.
This is the error many Hollywood screenwriters make (Oh, the audience needs to know what happened to the world), over explaining. The audience has a mind. Let their imagination fill in the blanks. McCarthy did so in the book but maybe because it was a book, by its very nature requiring intellect to process, McCarthy knew or assumed that people would bring their imaginations into play whereas your average moviegoer is assumed to be dullards. Perhaps that is why movie studios start out new superhero franchises with an origin story as they don’t believe the audience is capable of reading the source material to gain the same information.
What would you do to survive in a world where you have nothing to look forward to is the central issue in the film. You live and exist in an ever increasing nightmare and conditions will only get worse. Is it worth even staying alive to simply survive, exist? Charlize Theron’s character along with others ask and answer this very question.
Also at issue are the dynamics between father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). At first it seems as though one is carrying the weight for the both of them but there is a shift at the beginning of the third act. The boy is more aware of what is going on, especially with his father, than he has let on to up to this point. In the film, its unexplained what is causing the father’s worsening cough but within the first two pages of McCarthy’s book the reader knows what it is. They also know that it will most-likely kill every single person that remains alive on the planet. It’s one of those things that is in the air.
In Waterworld there is a subtle sense of hopelessness as what is left of society has turned to in-breeding to satisfy some procreation needs. In The Road, procreation is an unwarranted initiation of a cruel life sentence of hardship and misery while in the book, it is a desperate and despicable source of food for the perpetually starved.
It was a disservice to what came before it that screenwriter Joe Penhall felt the need to alter the ending to the story, ever so slightly, but for the worse with the addition of a mother with children and a dog. A dog, in that world? What do they feed it that they don’t eat or should eat themselves? What water does it drink? Perhaps Penhall felt the unerring need to lighten the mood of the somber tale before the final credits rolled. Too bad. What happy ending can these people possibly have, even with the addition of Snoopy?
John Hillcoats’ The Road is an adult end of the world film unlike big budget, CGI-horrorable I Am Legend (though its source material is excellent), The Book of Eli, and the like. The Road is hard, perilous, a cautionary tale to world leaders that toy with the notion of armageddon and setting off a nuke to teach another nation a lesson or to respect a border. When the end of the world comes, there will be no borders, especially when it comes to morality.