I was looking forward to seeing The Road. I have not read the book by Cormac McCarthy, but then, I have never read The Wizard Of Oz, Gone With The Wind or Twilight and that has not stopped me from enjoying those films.
What really interested me in seeing The Road was the fact it was an “End Of The World” movie. While that may not be a genre by itself, I have always loved movies that threaten, depict, portend, demonstrate or are either pre or post apocalyptic. One of the most joyous experiences I ever had at the movies was at the end of Michael Tolkin’s 1991 film The Rapture when the biblical prophecies alluded to throughout the film actually came true in very imaginative ways to my great delight and this is praise coming from an atheist who finds the Bible patently ridiculous.
The Road started off well. The film had an interesting if not very unique look and I certainly liked the bleak music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, but it wasn’t long before The Road began to quickly go down hill. The main reason for my disappointment was the fact the film never addresses what kind of disaster it was that destroyed the Earth. I understand why that information was not necessary in the book. From what I gather, the book was less a sci-fi story about a post-apocalyptic world and more an allegory about humanity surviving, hopefully with its morals and ethics intact. In many ways, the type of disaster that has befallen the Earth is unimportant, its just the “Maguffin”, the thing that gets the story moving and involves all the characters.
But film is a very literal medium and The Road would have benefited by having had someone think a little bit more about what kind of disaster it was that has befallen the Earth. I’ve been criticized for focusing on this one point and I am being told by people that the actual type of disaster doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter? Perhaps that’s true for the book, but the entire look of the film from its physical staging, to the costumes, the make-up and production design all grow organically from whatever kind of disaster it was. Believe me, the remnants of a nuclear holocaust would look very different from say, an environmental disaster or a disease epidemic.
Would it have been so difficult for the filmmakers to have selected one kind of disaster and then have focused their energies into making that reality consistent? What am I to think about the numerous conflicting visuals presented in The Road? We see huge ships, their keels broken, laying on inland highways quite far from the ocean. How did they get there? Was their massive worldwide flooding? There is no other visual evidence indicating massive flooding.
And yes, we do know what that kind of disaster looks like. Check out photos of New Orleans post-Katrina or the coastal towns of Indonesia after the tsunami in 2004. Talk about a worldwide disaster, the massive undersea quake on December 26, 2004 caused the entire Earth to wobble about 1” and shortened the length of the day by almost 3 micro-seconds. Now that’s a worldwide event!
Much of The Road is spent wandering around in formerly tree rich areas (the film was partly shot in my home state of Pennsylvania, which believe me, North, South, East and West, we have lots of trees here), but the trees shown in this film are all dead, dried out, rotted and prone to collapse, leading to several tense scenes as Papa Viggo and Kiddie Kodi have to dodge falling timber. These massive piles of kindling are also prone to bursting into flames, in fact, many times in the film we see the characters walking through what initially appears to be snow, but actually turns out to be falling ash from those burning trees.
And yet, there is an almost constant cover of dark grey clouds and copious rainfall everywhere they travel. Huh? How can the trees and the ground be so dry as to spontaneously combust, yet barely a day goes by without a drenching rainfall? I accept the fact I may be the only person who cares about this inconsistency, but I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s noticed it.
It’s because I do love “End Of The World” movies that I don’t allow filmmakers to simply retreat into vague notions of unnamed calamity as catch-all explanation for their attempts at heightened drama and forced action. This is a cop-out in the same way bad sci-fi films use the vagueness of “time travel” to cover over their creators lack of even trying to make their stories plausible. Come on filmmakers, you’re the ones spending millions of dollars here, you’re the ones asking me to spend two hours of my life here, it is your job to make the best film you can and if you slack off on the hard stuff, like making a film that makes sense, even within the limited frame of reference and reality you are creating, then I have every right to call you out on it.
I have had some friends of mine tell me that I should simply view The Road as a tense story of survival between a father and his young son. This is the wrong way to approach me. I am not a person who is automatically concerned simply because a character in jeopardy happens to be a child. My general attitude is “F**K” the children. Far from being the key to our future, I have seen too many contemporary adult lives ruined by kids.
Am I being unnecessarily hard on the filmmakers? Perhaps, but filmmaking is a hard job and if you are not up to the task, well, they always have room on the night shift at McDonalds.