Title: The Road
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Director: John Hillcoat
Based on a book of the same name, this film now a couple of years old was initially one that didn't seem all that interesting, yet still I found myself with a copy in my possession. The notion of a post-apocalyptic wasteland seemed more a subtle twist to the same story of the love between a father and son with all the usual Hollywood fare, but as I began I realised that this is a film that was not afraid to do things a little bit differently. The names of many of the characters are never divulged, and neither is the cause of the apocalypse that has wiped out all the life on earth, both clearly done purposefully in reflection of their solitude; the notion that the audience doesn't need to know because ultimately it doesn't matter. In this wasteland that was once teeming with life, all thoughts are on survival, and as important as it is to have food and water, the message conveyed is that to truly come out the other side with your humanity intact, you need to be able to extract hope wherever you might find it.
My fears at the uninspiring emotional dialogue were largely right on the money and rarely does it manage to strike a strong emotional chord; the relationship between the two lead characters, the man and his son, is rapidly established but rarely feels built upon; the backstory involving the man's wife whilst necessary to establish their past, feels stretched out throughout the first half of the film where a simple prologue would have sufficed, temporarily removing you from the situation at hand rather than immersing you fully in their plight, and it is perhaps only in the final moments that the film manages to evoke any real sympathy. The hazard of taking an inherently unidentifiable situation and extracting realistic character portrayals was never going to be an easy challenge and whilst never done poorly – both lead actors performing admirably in their roles with Mortenson's infamous tendency for method acting in particular working wonders here at bringing the situation to life – is a hurdle that because of the dialogue never truly seems to be overcome.
Fortunately this cyclical repetition of the same hashed out lines whilst often hammered home a little too hard only constitutes part of the story, and it is the notion that they are on the brink and battling for their very survival that rescues this film from monotony through the events told, the characters reactions to them and perhaps most importantly, the questions raised about the morality of those actions. They aren't entirely alone in this world, and the more we explore it with them them more the crushing despair of their situation sinks in; all the usual depravity from thieves who will kill you for a can of beans to those who have given up finding canned food and now resort to cannibalism lend a genuine sense that humanity can only be pushed too far, and that even the most kind man when fearing for his own survival may descend and lose their moral compass. These aren't the characters typified by 'Mad Max' either, but filled with self-loathing and resentment at what they've been forced to become, with some who have descended so far in the past few years to not realise the horror of the atrocities they commit, whilst many others choose to take their own life rather than face the reality of what they must do to survive.
This bleak outlook on the future mankind may have in store at the end of the world has rarely been brought to life so vividly as it has here; with a small budget they've managed to create a plethora of locations, each different from the last, complete with dilapidated buildings, caves, underground bunkers, and everything else you could expect to discover on such a lengthy journey. Always covered in ash under a stormy sky, the unrelenting biting coldness that surrounds them is emphasised by the minimal use of colour, which whilst not entirely in greyscale, retains a constant dull and dreary atmosphere that encapsulates everything within it. This only adds to the vivid contrast when something bright appears that there is still beauty in Earth's decaying ruins, and that as difficult as it might be to see, that there is still the faintest glimmer of hope. It may not get everything right, but as a realistic post-apocalyptic vision it must rank amongst the best.