DVD Releases: ‘The Road’

The struggle of any cinematic literary adaptation is the very transition from one medium to another. Novels are by their very nature prosaic, episodic and often rely heavily on narration to communicate both the plot and the emotive content within.

McCarthy’s novel The Road follows two survivors of an unknown apocalyptic disaster (simply referred to as ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’) as they make their way across a desolate, scorched America. Importantly, the original text contains numerous long, thoughtful narrations with sparse in-world dialogue: a potential disaster for any film attempting to emulate its literary counterpart. Whilst McCarthy’s meandering prose lends to itself an epic air of futility and desolation, to an audience of modern cinema-goers – primed by the linear A to B to C plot lines of Hollywood – the lack of narrative drive could instill a feeling of dragging monotony. The result is a film that often feels like it lacks direction; however, the emotion and desolation are still astoundingly realised.

Viggo Mortensen puts his all into the film’s central character ‘The Man’: a resourceful, practical antihero who gradually loses sight of his morals in an evermore amoralistic post-apocalyptic world. However, the (understandable) use of voice over to deliver some of McCarthy’s most memorable prose remains problematic. Whilst the language itself is undeniably beautiful and thought-provoking, Mortensen speaks it with such a downtrodden, hopeless tone that it almost passes for lethargy. The accumulation of minor yet vexing details such as this prevent The Road from reaching true greatness.

Adaptational issues aside, the film is unquestionably well shot. Javier Aguirresarobe’s original cinematography is heavily desaturated, and the result is a vast, sweeping landscape of browns, greys and dirty greens (even the sea, the final destination for ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’, is discoloured) resulting in a clear sense of haunting desolation.

In addition, the harrowing events that take place within this hellish setting perfectly complement the film’s pervasive sense of terror, with the remaining shards of humanity turning to acts of ritualistic murder and cannibalism. All of this is presented remorselessly by director John Hillcoat, illustrating the same graphic violence and morally devoid characters that populated his previous film, the Australian ‘western’ The Proposition (2005). This uncompromising attitude turns out to be the main strength of John Hillcoat’s film, unflinching in its portrayal of the extremities of human behaviour when faced with an amoral future.

By no means as successful an adaptation of McCarthy’s literary work as the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007), even through its flaws The Road still manages to portray one of the most appalling and original post-apocalyptic visions an increasingly overcrowded sub-genre.

Tom Read