Image Macall Polay.
© 2929/Dimension Films.
The photography by Javier Aguirresarobe and the production design by Chris Kennedy create a world as it has never been seen before in cinema. Only to the paintings of a Bosco, a Signorelli or a Membling has it been granted to depict hell, the eclipse of reason, the unfolding of evil, madness and desperation as alluded to or done explicitly in this film, through traces (blood in a bathroom or on the snow, iron and hooks, off-camera screams) or presences (the pained and suffering bodies of the unfortunate wretches locked up to supply meat to their executioners.) Only to Caspar David Friedrich has the power been given to represent in his paintings, Eichweld Abbey, Evening, Run Aground Under the Moonlight, Winter, Cloister or Cemetery in the Snow, the frozen desolation of death transformed in landscapes of twisted dry trees, ruins and skies forever grey. Aguirresarobe and Kennedy achieve it, as well as keeping as background over the apocalyptic landscapes the sustained notes of other documented horrors - the extermination camps, the devastation of Hiroshima.
Photography and production design are key elements to immersing ourselves for something more than an hour and a half, without providing a respite of light, in a world ravaged by a catastrophe whose origin is not explained. In that devastated world, always dark, and almost always rained on, frequently shaken by storms and earthquakes, plunged into a silence broken only by the crashing of collapsing dead trees , all plant and animal life has vanished. Only a few beings remain, those who are ceasing to be human and a few human beings in the true sense of the word. The former are organizing in gangs to survive as cannibals. The latter barely survive fleeing from the former feeding themselves with the few remains of food they find.
Among these are the main characters: a father and his son. They have no names, like everyone in the film. They have lost them, as they have wife and mother, home, and even the memories of past happiness that are fading like heartbeats spaced farther and farther apart. It is important to know that the son was born after the unknown apocalypse, against the will of his mother and by his father's wish. And this powerful choice of life, this almost irrational willing of his son to be born in a world that is a nightmare to live in, is the one thing that years later helps him continue his journey in search of the coast, to defend his son against all dangers, to the point of teaching him how to use the gun to commit suicide if he falls in the hands of cannibals.
Because this dark, harsh, cruel, and distressing to watch film, which manages to maintain tension throughout its length as few have done, is also - and above all, I would say - a tragic song of hope against every reason to be hopeless, of love of life when death seems preferable and, above all, of paternal love. And, along with that, the expression of a moving longing for the sacred (the cross open to the sky in the ruined church), the beautiful (the evocation of the Bach violin sonata), and the good (the encounter with the old man portrayed by Robert Duvall, the final shot), which made life humanly liveable.
Viggo Mortensen constructs a monumental figure of a father confronted with the anguish of keeping his son alive in a world into which he has brought him against all reason. His anguish is the measure of his desperation, and his desperation the measure of his love. John Hillcoat has constructed a masterpiece - an extremely difficult one to watch - from the novel of the pessimist Cormac McCarthy, whose disturbing No Country for Old Men was adapted by the Coen brothers. And he has achieved what is perhaps the best science-fiction movie since 2001 and Tarkovski's Stalker, Solaris and Sacrifice trilogy. Everything rings true in it. The hunger, the loneliness, the fear, the desperation, the sobs of the child - what exceptional acting from the little Kodi Smit-McPhee! - the tearing apart of the father... The Academy has covered itself in shame by preferring Cameron's three-dimensional puppets.