Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: The Road

* May be a spoiler near the end ... read at your own peril.

I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy a while ago, knowing that they were going to make a movie out of it, and when I finished the book I couldn't see how that would be possible.

Watching the movie tonight, I have to admit for the first 30 minutes or so, I still felt that way. But as the story unfolded over the hour and 53 minutes it took to tell, it quietly evolved into a surprisingly beautiful piece of work.

The setting is post-apocalyptic, and the plot is simple: A man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) merely trying to survive in a world that is uninhabitable. Complementing the plot nicely is the equally simple soundtrack, a solitary piano eventually accompanied by a cello that I thought sounded both haunting and hopeful as the father and son made their way through the cold and the gray, the ash, the devastation and the savagery that now defines the majority of those that survived whatever it is that has happened.

I found the cinematography to be gorgeous in a way, despite being predominantly dark and depressing, because offsetting this were vibrant colors that washed over you when the film conveyed any kind of positivity.

Expanding on this sense is the scene I remember most from the book, and the movie's interpretation didn't disappoint. The two are slowly starving to death and spending their entire existence searching for food in the most revolting places, withering away and covered in dirt and grime -- which brings out the fire and color in the eyes of the father, who has not and will not give up hope -- and they stumble across a bomb shelter that is stocked full of canned goods, water, toiletries and everything one would need to feel human again.

The bright yellow of the Del Monte canned fruit pops out of the gray as the two indulge in what had to be the best-tasting meal I could imagine ("What do you want for breakfast?!" the father exuberantly asks his son).

Later, we see the bright white of the tub as they take their first hot bath in who knows how long, the water washing coats of grime away in contrast -- giving their faces color. They eat a hot dinner by the warm, amber glow of candlelight as it rains outside above them.

Or consider the flashback scenes, echoes of a happier time, in which the palette is always dramatically changed to bursts of color -- comforting your eyes after having acclimated to the brooding overtones. Watching these, I was reminded of the little girl in the red coat in "Schindler's List," or the flashback scenes in "The Passion of the Christ" -- where you felt that burning need for color and relief -- and it was presented when you -- or the characters -- needed it the most.

My favorite part of this movie, though, came when the two happen across an old man, who is alone. And as they talk to him, that's all I notice ... until the next scene, where they had invited him to dinner around their campfire and I realize that ... it's Robert Duvall!

A funny thing happened when that dawned on me -- I actually felt somewhat comforted by Duvall's presence in this movie. Having seen nearly everything he's done -- multiple times -- he represented a sense of familiarity when I recognized his voice amid the bleak existence that I had felt lost in up to that point.

Not to mention, while he's only on screen for a few minutes, he gives a very evocative performance in a way that only he could deliver.

As the film progressed, one of the most disconcerting feelings I found myself having was wondering how close we may all be to this type of existence. Compounding this feeling was watching the featurette, in which they said that they filmed the majority of this movie at locales that have already suffered similar devastation (Katrina, Mount St. Helens).

But for all its despair, the movie ends with what I believe it was trying to convey all along: a feeling of hope. There's a poignant sense of a story ending and another beginning -- without giving too much away.

And as this feeling grows, we remember a minor scene in the movie where the boy expressed interest in a dog that may have been following them. We also remember that we've been told early on that all animals have been wiped out. Well, for me, seeing a fleeting pan shot of the eternally optimistic face of a worn-down mutt at this point not only drove home that feeling of hope but felt like an incredibly powerful and thought-provoking scene in the movie.

(Dimension Films)
What does the dog represent to you? Clearly this was a strategic choice made, and you'd be amazed at the myriad interpretations that are out there, both optimistic and even foreboding.

I think you can take a lot away from this movie. When everything is stripped away and it's just you and someone else, as Mortensen said, is it simply a matter of survival at that point that defines us, or is it something else? Maybe it's the act of preserving our humanity in the face of hopelessness, sin and despair.

Or maybe it's simply a reminder to not take the things we have for granted in our own lives.

Whatever it is, I did take one thing away from the movie. When I went to the refrigerator later in the evening to scrounge, a burst of yellow popped out at me from the Del Monte can of peaches I had sitting there on the bottom shelf ... and I don't remember them ever tasting so good.

1 comment:

bboyneko said...

nice review! here is mine (shorter) specifically about the ending: http://carbonatoms.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/analysis-of-cormac-mccarthys-the-road-ending-film/