This post contains spoiler for the road.”
Before the whole TV zombie idea really took off, the cinematic end of the world looked a lot grayer and more human, thanks to “The Road.” For anyone familiar with author Cormac McCarthy’s work, it should come as no surprise that the film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel wasn’t exactly the good movie of 2009. It was bolstered by its selection for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club in 2007 , “The Road” was already a literary sensation before director John Hillcoat set out to adapt it as the first sequel to his critically acclaimed Australian western “The Proposition.”
The year after “The Road” hit theaters, viewers embraced a similar post-apocalyptic scenario on the small screen with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” McCarthy wouldn’t publish another book until late 2022, so there was a new zombie trailer in town — for HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
While “The Road” is zombie-free, it heavily references the flesh, as gangs of cannibals endanger the journey of a man (Viggo Mortensen) and a boy (Cody Schmidt-McPhee). We’re spared the sight of them carving up any human flesh, but within 10 minutes, Man is already teaching the boy how to kill himself if “the bad guys” catch up with them on their journey to shore. Here again, as in ‘The Proposition’, we watch an unkempt bearded man working a revolver.
It wasn’t always this way for Andra. “The Road” begins with a flashback to a time before the world became a stark, saturated landscape ravaged by earthquakes and fires. Flowers bloom as The Man chases his horse and his sunny blonde wife, The Woman (Charlize Theron), looks on. In the end, the boy has a new family and the viewer is left to piece together what it all meant.
The good, the bad
A constant thread in “The Road” is the increasingly blurred line between “good guys” and “bad guys.” It begins as a simplistic way for the man and boy to differentiate themselves from the people who threaten them. After shooting his first bad guy with one of their last two bullets, Andras tells the boy, “There aren’t many good guys left, that’s all. We’ve got to watch out for the bad guys. We’ve just got to keep carrying the fire.”
The Man goes on to clarify that he means “the fire inside you”, reassuring the boy that they are “still the good guys” and “always will be”. It’s a promise he’s destined to break, as the extremes of survival have weakened the man’s sense of morality, leaving him distrustful and self-serving, while the boy remains naturally altruistic.
The Man cares about his son’s survival, of course, though his readiness to give up hope with the trigger finger on that revolver is almost as itchy as David Drayton’s in “The Mist.” For the boy, however, being good children means helping others outside of their two-member family and not visiting worse wrongs on those who have wronged them.
The boy follows the Golden Rule, basically. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That means carrying the fire.
It’s easy to do when they’re in a house full of cannibals: clean out the bad guys with an underground closet world. In a fireside chat afterward, the boy explains that even though he and Man are hungry, they “would never eat anybody,” no matter how hungry they were. However, the Man is also so overprotective that the boy has to beg him to share food with a frail older man.
“He who made humanity will not find humanity here”
Old Eli (Robert Duvall) says he thought he was dead and the boy was an angel when they first met on the street. Sometimes, the Boy acts as the conscience of Man, giving voice to the better angels of his nature. “That old man wasn’t bad,” he tells the Man. “You can’t even tell anymore.”
For Man, morality is as murky as filming and the question of what caused the end of the world. This affects his ultimate fate after a fatal encounter where he and two other adults mistake each other for villains. Before that, we see The Man crossing a new line, breaking the unspoken good guy code with the Thief (the late Michael K. Williams) by forcing him to strip naked at gunpoint after the Thief tries to escape with his belongings .
The Thief brandishes a knife at first, but as he drops his defenses, we see that he is hungry and afraid, just like the Man and the Boy. As he drools and pleads, “Please, sir… you don’t have to do this to me,” the Man literally rips the clothes off his back, reclaiming his possessions as well as stealing the Thief’s dignity.
“You didn’t mind doing it to us,” replies the Man. “I will leave you as you left us.” However, it left the Thief in a much worse condition, naked and shivering in the street. Even as the Boy advocates for the Thief’s well-being, the Man dismisses and dehumanizes him, saying, “He’s going to die anyway.” As he protects his son, a stranger’s life is too abstract for him to care. He has lost compassion for others, and this will be his undoing.
Flare Vs. Arrow
At the end of “The Road,” Andras lies dying as an arrow wound worsens his illness. Throughout the film, he has been paranoid about people following him and the boy, and when an archer in a building shoots him in the leg, the Man retaliates by firing his gun through the window and killing the archer.
As he did with the Thief, Man overreacted again, partly in self-defense, but partly because he lost some basic human empathy as an adult. The worries of the world stifled it and left it suspicious (admittedly, with good reason) of anyone who isn’t family.
It turns out that the archer and his own partner thought that the Man and the Boy were following their. In this world of rags and bones—with its oppressive palette drained of every color but gray—everyone is afraid and everyone is on the loose, mistaking the good for the bad and perhaps becoming evil themselves.
Some aspects of “The Road” are a bit much. There are moments when it almost plays like an unintentional parody of a poverty-porn movie, with the actors emoting to wailing string music, each looking dirty and destitute in a film they’d be walking the red carpet for months later. This culminates with a broken Guy Pearce appearing at the end as the Veteran, revealing himself, Molly Parker’s “Motherly Woman” and their two sons to be the family of good men who all followed Man and Boy . along.
They even have a dog with them. It is implied that this is the same dog that the Man and the Boy heard outside the underground shelter where, earlier in the film, they dined like kings on canned goods.
Fathers and sons, carrying the fire
Thinking the bad guys were approaching, Man left the shelter, even as the more optimistic boy said, “You always think bad things are going to happen. But we found this place.” In a simple misunderstanding, Andras let his fears get the best of him, giving up an abundant supply of food that could have nursed his frail body back to health. The bad guys were out to get him and his son, but there were also good guys – other angels – watching over them. The boy saw one of the veteran’s sons earlier in the film, running after him with a desire to connect.
In “The Road,” character actor Garrett Dillahunt appears as the gang member Man shoots for the first time. Dillahunt had auditioned for the role of Josh Brolin in another Cormac McCarthy adaptation, the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, where he ended up playing a sheriff’s deputy opposite Tommy Lee Jones.
Suffice it to say that ‘The Road’ is a film that suffers in comparison to ‘No Country for Old Men’. It is not a masterpiece on the same level as the last one. However, if ‘The Road’ has anything going for it, it’s that – despite how bleak and bleak it all seems – its ending is surprisingly more hopeful than the ending of ‘No Country for Old Men’.
In dialogue, it even evokes the same image of a person carrying fire. This is a movie where a father treats his son to a Coke at the end of the world. On an abandoned overpass, “The Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen removes the man’s wedding ring and leaves his wife’s memory to rest, before his son finally leaves him and carries the fire to next generation. .
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