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The Road:
The Feel-Bad Movie of the Apocalypse

[1]733 words

Editor’s Note:

The reviewer discusses the ending of the film in very general terms. While not technically a spoiler, I thought that readers should nevertheless be warned.

The Road makes The Road Warrior look like a utopia. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy and directed by John Hillcoat, The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee as a father and his little boy struggling to survive and reach “the coast” in an America devastated by some sort of ecological apocalypse.

This event apparently killed off all animals and plants, but it somehow left human beings alive to live off foraged canned goods and, when these run short, cannibalism. It is no more preposterous a premise than the average zombie film, but the art-film pretensions of the director’s style make it seem silly.

Then, after two harrowing hours of wind, rain, leaden skies, depression, talk of suicide, suicide, more talk of suicide, starvation, roving cannibal gangs, ambushes, earthquakes, falling trees, mistrust, man’s inhumanity to man—just one damn thing after another—a happyish ending is delivered by a deus ex machina.

The initial apocalyptic premise is suddenly revised. We learn that not all animals are dead, and not all people have been reduced to cannibalism. It is, in short, a happy ending, delivered at the price of turning the rest of the movie into an emotional cheat. If the movie had remained true to its original premise, the final line would be “Well kids, it looks like meat’s back on the menu.”

But I am not complaining. Frankly, I was glad of any ending. I just wanted out of there.

Like many people who are profoundly alienated from the system, I relish the thought of a good crash. A crash will destroy the mechanisms of social control and mental conditioning. The struggle for survival will rid us of egalitarianism, progressivism, sentimentality, mental masturbation, and pious rot. False values will be liquidated. (I watched with pleasure as the family in The Road walked over jewels and banknotes, searching for food.) The weak and foolish will perish, the strong and clever will survive. A spell of healthy barbarism will set the stage for the rise of a new civilization. And maybe this time we will get it right.

Post-apocalyptic movies, however, generally disappoint, since in general too much of the bad stuff survives for my taste. The Road, however, goes to the opposite extreme. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in that world (not that I would have fared well in The Road Warrior either). But personal survival is less important to me than the survival of the white race, and, frankly, until the premise changed at the end, I saw little hope of that either.

Is there a racial meaning, message, or bias to The Road? Not really. The cast and extras are all white, except for two or three blacks. I like to think that in the sort of apocalypse projected in the movie, blacks would fall into cannibalism, while whites would manage to hold some semblance of civilization together in the hope of waiting out the catastrophe. Instead, we see whites reduced to cannibalism and despair.

The one black who has lines in the movie steals the white family’s goods and is caught. Mortensen’s character holds him at gunpoint and strips him of his clothes, leaving him naked, begging, and blubbering. The little boy prevails upon his father to leave the clothes behind, but we never learn if they are reclaimed.

I was amused to read in internet forums that this scene bothered some viewers. They were terrified of a world in which the struggle for survival cancels out white guilt and hardens the heart to Negro pleading. That, of course, is the whole payoff for me. But these critics should be comforted, for the silly child’s instincts prevailed in the end.

The Road in an unremitting downer with no redeeming dramatic or artistic value. If there is anything good in the book, it does not make it to the screen. I think this was supposed to be “art,” so of course it is not entertaining. Intellectual poseurs will claim that it is thought-provoking, but it is really just perplexing.

Don’t waste your time and money on The Road. And for God’s sake don’t show it to anyone who is depressed. I predict that this movie will cause more suicides than a Finnish winter.