'The Road' Traverses Bleak, Yet Hopeful, Terrain

Source: USA Today

Image Macall Polay.
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If civilization were obliterated, what shreds of humanity would remain in those who survived?

The Road probes the meaning of human connection. Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning, lyrical novel presents an intimate portrait of a father and son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

The film adaptation is grimly faithful to the book, even as it adds heft to lesser characters.

At the heart of this bleak story are two astounding performances. Viggo Mortensen is superb as the father, blending a weathered demeanor with indefatigable determination and tenderness. His son is played by 11-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee, whose sweet voice and innocence are ideally suited to the role.

The father and son (unnamed, as in the book) are refugees, pushing a rickety cart with their belongings, forced to scrounge for food and water, taking shelter wherever they can in the devastated landscape. Amid the ruins of buildings and abandoned cars, fires flare and dead trees topple. The world is as ragged as their spirits, though we never learn what caused this tragedy.

They make their exhausted way among the flattened, barren landscape and charred remains, dodging cannibals and thieves in their quest to reach a warmer climate by the sea.

The father reads to his son, especially about courageous heroes. He assures him that they are the good guys, and must be ever wary of the bad.

When the father shoots a man who threatens them, his son is badly shaken. "I'll kill anyone who touches you because that's my job," he explains simply. The dead man's blood and bits of his brain are splattered on the boy. His father gently washes his son's hair as the boy whimpers like a baby animal. The haunting scene pierces the heart.

The film is beautifully shot, with an evocative score that offsets the stark terrain. The role of the boy's mother, played by Charlize Theron, is amplified from her bare-bones presence in the book.

While the film is not as resonant as the novel, it is an honorable adaptation, capturing the essence of the bond between father and son.

Their efforts to hold on to their better natures amid soul-killing conditions is stirring and life-affirming.
Last edited: 5 December 2009 09:53:46
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