It’s an interesting juxtaposition to watch The Road and The Book of Eli within a few days of each other. Both feature wandering, haggard A-listers and both take place in what very well could be the same post-apocalyptic wastelands. But while one is blood-spattering action flick and with a painfully ham-fisted commentary on religion, the other is instead a haunting tale of lost humanity, and what it really means to be a “survivor” after the world ends.
It’s less than a decade from now, but the earth is a mere husk of what it once was. War obliterated nearly all life on the planet, as there are no more trees, no more animals and barely any humans. The sun no longer comes out, as the only light is given off by wildfires consuming the last of dry wooden skeletons that populate the land.
Humanity has devolved to a point where many have turned to cannibalism to sustain themselves, as food is something that is quickly vanishing entirely. Those who refuse to turn on their fellow man find themselves starving, roving the scorched earth for any trace remnants of sustenance.
Two struggling survivors known only as “Man” (Viggo Mortensen) and “Boy” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) work their way down the east coast, in search of something, anything in the south, as up north the winters are becoming unbearable.
If we find 100 billion more of these, we can turn them in and buy a spaceship to get us off this planet!
They trudge through the barren wasteland like homeless people, with a shopping cart full of trinkets and their torn up sneakers wrapped in plastic bags on their feet. The comparison is so dead on, I’m not convinced this entire film isn’t a commentary on the plight of the homeless in our decidedly non-apocalyptic society today. Man and Boy scour empty stores and houses for supplies, sometimes finding a morsel here or there, or sometimes stumbling across a cannibal den with less than pleasant results.
The Road is an exhausting exercise as it’s one of the most hopeless movies I’ve ever seen. The earth is dying, and there’s no going back. There’s no future, as there’s no food, and even the most resourceful survivors shouldn’t be physically able to last longer than another decade at the most.
There’s no mystery to solve as to why all this happened, and there’s no real goal that we’re trudging toward in the film. There’s only survival, and the love between a father and a son who was born after the world ended, and knows nothing of deer or sunlight or Coca Cola.
The destroyed world that’s been created here is one the most authentic apocalyptic landscapes ever created, as it relies less on hulking, destroyed CGI versions of famous landmarks, and instead focuses on smaller details. A ravaged house, a decaying grocery store, a road littered with bodies and shells of cars.
You don’t always need to see the decapitated Statue of Liberty or a ravaged Golden Gate Bridge to know the world has ended.
The danger feels real as well, as Mortensen is not some bionic super soldier meant to thrive in the apocalypse, he’s just a man, a man with a gun that has two bullets, which means he’s not planning on fighting a horde of cannibals any time soon. His only mission is to make sure his son is safe, but why exactly he fights so hard to stay alive is never really made clear, as every other day he preps his son to shoot himself should the situation call for it. When do you finally say enough is enough? What exactly are they holding out for?
The purpose of the titular journey may be unclear, but it’s the emotional ride along the way that makes The Road worth watching. The only problem is, the entire film is so bleak, truly tragic moments are a bit less impactful than they would be otherwise, as by that point you’ve been desensitized by all the horrors you’ve been witnessing for the last hour and a half.
I also hate being sold on a movie based on an actor’s involvement that turns out to be a mere cameo, and from the trailers and synopsis, I was prepared to see criminally underused Guy Pearce be the film’s main villain, but he has no more than two minutes of screen time and it’s in a role that you weren’t expecting. It’s the The Hurt Locker all over again.
On the other hand, Omar Little cameos make everything better.
The release of The Road has been quite frustrating, as you would think it would be one of this years Oscar frontrunners with the current slate of movies that are out. But an absurdly limited release with no signs of expanding has left most people never even hearing about the film. Mortensen definitely deserves a nomination for his powerful performance here, as well as director John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall for adapting Cormac McCarthy’s legendary novel.
It’s hopeless, but beautiful, and it seems that the quietest vision of the end of the world might just also be the best.
4 out of 5 stars