Sunday 10 January 2010
Road to Nowhere
We live in an age of dread, the age of the coming apocalypse. We live in the age of global warming, of the banking crisis, of the coming end to the Mayan calendar, of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and Barak Obama as President. :-))
At least some of these fears are reflected in popular culture, in the growing popularity of chaos and apocalypse movies. The zombie genre thrives. The modish obsession with the supposed Mayan end of days was reflected in the madly exuberant 2012, which I personally found overstated to the point of self-parody.
Now we have The Road, a bleak post-apocalypse movie set in a dying world. It’s a dog eat dog world; well, actually, no, it’s a human eat human world, because in the absence of agriculture, wild animals and even birds, human flesh is the only obvious source of protein. Not for everyone, though: the ‘bad guys’ gather in gangs and hunt down other people for sustenance. And the ‘good guys, what do they eat? I’m actually not sure other than scraps gained from some rather dubious foraging, of things in tins that must be well past their use-by date!
I’m getting ahead of myself. Directed by John Hillcoat and based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, The Road focuses on the ‘journey south’ of an unnamed father, played by Viggo Mortensen, and his son, played by Kodi Smit-MacPhee, through a devastated landscape and ruined settlements all against a background of unremittingly grey weather. The only real colour or sunlight is supplied by the occasional dream-like flashbacks to the pre-apocalyptic world. Just why they are on a ‘journey south’ I’m not exactly sure because the world is no better there than it was ‘in the north.’
This is a morality tale of a kind, a journey of self-discovery, an attempt to represent standards of goodness in a world where good and bad, morality of any kind, really has no meaning at all. But if the Man represents ‘good’ the Boy represents ‘do-gooder’; and my, oh, my, how he irritates, insisting on sharing their meagre food supply with every indigent they meet on the way, including one who for a time robs them of all they have. There were points, I have to confess, that I actively wanted the tiresome sprog to fall into the hands of the roving cannibals!
There is no real rapport between the two actors, no real chemistry. There is a story of a kind here but it is thin, as thin as the inhabitants of this bleak world. In the end the Man dies, of tuberculosis, I think, leaving the boy alone on a barren coastline after the ‘journey south.’
Now, while the message here, the bleak and unremitting message, is far from the usual Hollywood fare the movie has the usual unbelievable Hollywood ending! After all how could one possibly close with the Boy facing certain death, from starvation, from exposure, or being killed by cannibals? No, instead he is suddenly ‘gifted’ a new family, coming from goodness knows where. There they are: dad and mom and brother and sister. There is even a dog. If the humans have barely enough to eat one has to wonder where on the barren earth the dog’s food supply comes from!
So, that’s it; a hair-shirt movie for the age of trepidation. It’s worthy, it’s ponderous and it’s ultimately contrived and rather pointless; the perfect ‘feel bad’ movie.