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Movie Review: The Road

February 21, 2010

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“How would you know thatthat you were the last man alive?”

It’s a theme that’s been explored over the past few years, with Francis Lawrence’s “I Am Legend” and Roland Emmerich’s “2012.” The former relied more on the science fiction aspect, the latter being a fun, yet cartoony look at the end of the world. You can go back even further to Mel Gibson’s “The Road Warrior,” a cult favorite. John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” provides the best speculative fiction on the subject: what would happen to those few who survived the end of the world?

The landscape in “The Road” is nothing but a vast wasteland. Buildings are deteriorating or have crumbled. A gray sky blocks any hint of sunlight. Trees fall and fires erupt without warning. Even though we’re given hints in the form of earthquakes, we’re never really told what caused the global catastrophe. It doesn’t matter. The world as we knew it is gone, leaving stragglers left not to live, but merely survive by any means necessary. Whether by theft or cannibalism, the entire point of one’s existence in this movie is to simply make it to tomorrow. The planet finally became the hand basket everyone said we were all riding in.

We see the two main characters post apocalypse. A father and his five or six year old son, whose names we’re never told, are seen lugging a shopping cart with everything they own. The only hope they have is to make it to the coast, where the father believes they can survive. Regardless of any worldly possessions, the son is the only thing the father truly values, and will do whatever he needs to in order to protect him. Moreso, the father is intent on making sure that his son can continue beyond his death, carrying a sense of morality and the ideal that they are, in fact, “the good guys who carry the fire.”

The two meet people along their journey, essentially the last ones standing.  There are very few, the most profound being an older man named Eli (Robert Duvall).  When asked if he ever wished he would die, Eli’s response summed it up, “No, it’s foolish to ask for luxuries in times like these.”

Make no mistake; this movie is as bleak as it gets. Hope is nearly non-existent in just about every frame, unless that hope comes in the form of a quick and painless death. In one of the movie’s more disturbing scenes (one of many), the father and son find themselves in a house where the basement is inhabited by cannibals. Spotting others on their way back, the two run to the second floor, hiding next to a sink filled with blood. The only good the father believes he can provide his son is a quick and dignified death, as opposed to being killed and eaten. The scenario of dying with some form of dignity plays out more than once, each time you’re left wondering if it’s the better way out. It’s Darwinism with a whole heap of despair.

No, this will not win any “Feel Good Movie of the Year” awards, nor is it your a-typical date movie. It’s a road trip movie of the most depressing and devastating kind. Even so, “The Road” is enough to make one contemplate your own existence, what you would do being among the last left alive, and how you would manage to keep your own morality while everything else around you has died. It’s not the least bit entertaining, probably the best compliment I could pay.

Four out of five stars

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