On the road again

14 12 2009

The Road: The movie.


Yes, our misanthropic cohort couldn’t wait until Christmas for the end of the world, so we trekked to a theatre Friday night and watched the man and the boy dodge cannibals and falling trees.

*Oh, have I mentioned there will be spoilers? Because there will be spoilers.*

There was no real change-up in the ending, although director John Hillcoat did end it a bit short, with the boy meeting the family, and his assent to travel with them.

Ct. was ticked at this. It’s a fucking Hallmark card!

I said, Ct., have you ever actually read a Hallmark card? Because while the movie ended on a less grim note than the book, it was still pretty fucking grim.

But I see her point: in uniting the boy with the family, you’re left with the sense of some possibility. In the book, however, there is none. There is only what is lost:

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed mystery.

I know of at least one person who thought the ending of the book was hopeful. Hopeful? I asked. How on earth could it be hopeful when everything is gone and not coming back?

The boy meets the family, she said. And the fish.

The fish are gone. Gone: could not be put back. Not be made right again.

Anyway, back to the movie. I think the problem is that the only folks likely to see the movie are those who’ve read—and liked—the book, so we’re all watching the movie with the trajectory of the book in mind.

And, frankly, not much happens. The movie is juiced up a bit with color-ful flashbacks (intrusive in the gray movie tones in the way they’re not in the book: the color and light really do overwhelm onscreen), but, really, it’s a road movie with only a vague destination and in which the main purpose is merely to remain alive.

Scratch that: It doesn’t really fit the conventions of a road movie, precisely because there is no real destination and the flight of the father and son cannot really be characterized as a ‘meaningful’ journey. They’re on the run (or walk, as it were), staying alive just to keep staying alive.

Yeah, there’s that talk about carrying the fire, and some Christian imagery and words (in both movie and book), but the man stays alive to protect the boy, and the boy stays alive because he’s a boy.

The road is a trope for the road itself, a question of why live, at all?

Well, that’s another post, I guess, and one for which I’ll have to haul out my Camus.

Back to the movie: Because so little happens, but what does happen matters so much, you end up scrutinizing the screen so that this even or that can be checked off. Hillcoat cuts one notable event and substitutes another (pointless) scene in its place, but the rest pretty much unfolds as in the book:

  • Shoot the cannibal? Check.
  • Share meal with old man? Check.
  • Stupidly enters basement? Check. (And not nearly as awful a scene in the movie as it was in the book.)
  • Starve? Check.
  • Find underground cache? Check.

Et cetera.

What would it have been like to have seen the movie without knowing what would happen? Without turning your face sideways as the man enters the basement? Without knowing about the ship and arrow and the family and endless gray?

What would it be like to watch it not knowing how bad things are, and how bad things will remain?

The problem of foreknowledge is always an issue with book-readers who watch book-movies, but because The Road is so much about the stillness and the terror and not much else, the problem is exacerbated. With a book busier in plot, character, and backdrop, there are more pieces to juggle and interpret, more for the viewer to see and miss and absorb.

It’s not that The Road isn’t complex, but it is in many ways ‘merely’ a contemplation of the endless, horrifying, present.

That could work as a movie, but not, I think, if you’ve read the book first.

Especially not this book.




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