The Road (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Charlize Theron
Directed By: John Hillcoat
Written By: Joe Penhall
Armageddon. The Apocalypse. The end of the world. With the supposed end of the Mayan calender around the corner (as well as Nostradamus “experts” revising their interpretations of his quatrains as they see fit), the end of mankind is definitely a hot topic. Just ask the History Channel. Hollywood has certainly been exploring possible scenarios we as a species may be forced to face in the future. Be it from alien invasion, asteroid/comet, or climate change, movies have shown us what might happen. I, however, have always been more interested in what happens after. This is the question The Road asks.
The Road follows two nameless characters (Mortensen and Smit-McPhee) who are father and son (known from now on as The Man and The Boy). After an unexplained cataclysmic event, the Man and Boy travel together alone trying to survive each day the best they can. It’s a lonely, ash covered world in which the two must battle the elements and starvation day after day. Not only that, they must look out for other survivors who are not only out to steal their belongings, but a good majority are cannibals (some even have underground human “farms”).
We find out various things along the way. That the Man’s wife (Theron) had slowly given up hope and committed suicide. We also learn that the Man is dying with what appears to be cancer. He rushes to teach his son what it takes to survive in the cruel world before his time is done. He must teach the Boy where to find food, how to boil water, and mostly how to handle other people in the rare event he should come across one.
The Road, as you can tell, isn’t very plot motivated. It’s simply about a father and son traveling to the ocean after an event that has paralyzed civilization. It’s world void of animals, plants (only trees remain and they’re slowly dying), and any convenience that we have now come to rely on. Unlike his wife, the Man never gives up the “fire within,” the will to survive. It’s important to teach his son what it is to be human: to read, to be decent, to dream. The interesting part is that as the Man gets nearer to death, it’s up to the Boy to remind HIM about how to believe in good of humans in spite of it all.
The film is far from perfect, however. It is very slow. There’s simply no getting around it. It slowly moves from one situation to another as the duo travel. Also, each situation seems to get more and more emotionally draining than the previous one. It’s not easy to watch. Smit-McPhee is very good, however, is a bit old for how the character is played. The character seemed to want to be a little boy for most of the movie, which is hard when the actor is nearly a teenager.
That said, he has great chemistry with Mortensen, which is important as they’re the only people in the movie for the most part. Despite my early complaint, Smit-McPhee does have an innocence needed for a movie like this. We root for him to keep it and we hope he never loses it along the way. He’s the bright spot in the world of gray. There are several very nice performances throughout (included the always great Robert Duvall), but Viggo Mortensen carries the movie. He’s simply brilliant as the Man. I can’t think of anyone else who could have played the role as effectively. More than that, if Mortensen isn’t in the movie, I dare say I might have disliked it.
Bottom Line: There are very few moments of happiness and hope found in The Road. The story is as bleak as it’s surroundings and it’s understandable how it can be overkill to a lot of viewers. However, the point is that despite it all, the Man (and the Boy takes up the mantle as the film progresses) keeps moving forward. The two never give up, even at the very end. Give The Road a look, even just the absolutely riveting (and overlooked) performance by Mortensen.