Against All Odds
12 November 2009
The Road star - and Habs fan - Viggo Mortensen on the futility, and necessity, of hope
Image Macall Polay.
© 2929/Dimension Films/MGM.
Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road is a quest story in the same vein as The Odyssey, or The Wizard of Oz, or the Book of Exodus. The only difference is that, to a large extent, it's a journey towards death rather than new beginnings. After an unspecified planetary cataclysm, an unnamed man and his son must make the hazardous journey on foot across a wrecked America towards the ocean, all the while dodging the dregs of leftover humanity who would capture and enslave them - or worse.
This adaptation done by John Hillcoat (The Proposition), which stars Viggo Mortensen as The Man and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee as The Boy, adds a tiny measure of hope to McCarthy's dark tale - it also omits the two most heinous, probably unfilmable scenes. Still, it's an uncommon kind of film about the apocalypse, positing that things much worse than trans-planetary earthquakes and floods exist in the human soul. Hour caught up with Mortensen on the phone from Los Angeles last week.
Hour: I've been thinking about your filmography, especially the two films you recently made with David Cronenberg, and it seems to me that you've never played a character this sad.
Mortensen: Yes, the reason I wanted to do this is because it's a good story and a great character who has a great dramatic situation and a journey, but also because I was afraid of it. I had never played a character who has some kind of emotional turbulence going on under the surface all the time that is largely based on regret and nostalgia. He has a profound sadness that he has to carry with him and somehow come to terms with, and that was a challenge.
Hour: The other challenge must have been finding the right co-star.
Mortensen: In the book, it's the boy who breaks your heart really in the end. Kodi had something special, some sort of melancholy and wisdom. He had this kind of an old man inside him, and it was beautiful. It was incredible what he did, I would never have really got to certain places without him. And, like me, he's a Habs fan.
Hour: Which means that like you, he is accustomed to heartbreak and the futility of hope?
Mortensen: Yeah. Though I think it would be great to see the Habs go all the way, and I refuse to think it's impossible. But yes, as far as The Road, in spite of everything there's some hope there, and because we don't shy away from the tough parts, you really earn the uplifting ending... My favourite line of the film happens to be in voiceover, where [my character] says that by the end, the boy has helped him accept his fate and accept the way things are and appreciate life. He says, "If I were God, I would make the world just so, and no different."
Hour: I assume you're applying that maxim to your feelings about the end of the world, and not the Habs' postseason prospects.
By coincidence, The Road happens to be coming out the week after one of the biggest disaster movies of all time, Roland Emmerich's 2012, which plays on similar themes: parents confronting their children's futures, as well as personal bravery and compassion. Does The Road have certain privileges because it's set after the cataclysm has already happened?
Mortensen: When you see end-of-the-world sort of scenarios in movies, usually it's a spectacular kind of thing. I've seen how audiences have reacted to The Road. They start talking about their families and the world in a way that's not just "Wow, wasn't that cool when half the city fell under the ocean?" - there's a lot more to it. And also, because it's not a special-effects movie in the sense that it was shot in real environments [in the United States], you can clearly see there are places in the world that already look that way, there are people living on the streets of every city as though the end of the world has already happened.
Last edited: 12 November 2009 07:24:41