Thursday, 21 January 2010


I think I may have mentioned in my preview for this that it was probably going to make me cry a lot. The comments I'd received from people who saw it before me ranged from "not as depressing as I thought it was going to be" to "horribly bleak." From the onset you know they're not both going to survive, so you journey with them hoping that the end, whenever and for whomever it comes, isn't going to reduce you into a snivelling, face-leaking mess.
There are so many interesting concepts to this film, so many questions thrown up: not just about what is happening and why to the exterior, but what is happening and why in the interior as well - in people's minds. The world is ending for no given explanation (the interesting exchange between the Father and the Old Man who states "everyone thought it was con but not me" makes me think either 2012 or climate change) and everyone reacts and adapts to the apocalyptic prison in different ways. Some become savages and turn to cannibalism to survive. Some can't take it and kill themselves by any means necesary (the Mother). Some just wither away, their decomposed and skeletal bodies left untended to in whatever state they last endured. A few exist in an innocent petrified state, the black skies and burning forests the only life they have ever known (The Boy). And then there's the survivors - the ones who choose to fight. The Father - blessed or plagued by sweet nostalgia - never gives up hope that they might one day get back to those luxurious days. His fruitless pleading to his wife not to give in and die is heartbreaking, as his devotion to his whole family. His flashbacks of happier times with his wife bathed in golden light and showing simple moments such as tinkling piano keys or dozing in the sun - come almost like nightmares, tormenting him from another world, showing him what he can no longer touch and feel in this blasted barren land. His son suffers too with memories of his mother and The Father tells him they just have to forget her. His way of doing this is to drop the only picture he has left of her and his wedding ring over a bridge. His commitment to the cause is devastating: cutting out all the physical ties with the person he still clearly loves (I certainly couldn't do it). But it's his love for his son that keeps him going and what is central to the film's emotional pull and drive.
Every moment of their survival is your survival. As they hide from cannibals in woods and upstairs bedrooms you are praying they don't get caught and trapped. When they find the bunker with shelves and shelves of food you feel absolutely delighted inside (I think a lot of people wondered why on earth they didn't just stay there!). The Father's love for The Boy and his overwhelming need to protect him puts him in some painful and trying situations - teaching him how to kill himself with a gun if he ever needs to, and shunning any passers-by who appeal to them with a harsh antagonism despite the tugging at his sleeve. The part where they chase down a thief who stole their belongings who is then made to strip completely nude by The Father is particularly telling of this, and is more unsettling as the distraught son pleads for his father to have some compassion. It's not that the father is slowly becoming less human - his tender moments with his son are testament to that - it's his dwindling trust in the rest of the human race that controls him, and what their intentions could be for his son who he cannot let out of his sight for a second.

The end then, when it comes, is ramped up for maximum emotional impact. Of course it was obvious they were never going to find anything when they finally reached the South, anything starkly different to the world they prevail now. It's also fairly evident a boat trip to a new shore wouldn't bring much fortune either. The Father knows this, and has always known this, but he has to keep 'the fire' alive for his son, and as long as the two of them stay together then all is well.

When the Father starts to become ill you uncomfortably realise where the story is heading and it's not an easy watch at all. And I caved and bawled like a baby for the entire last ten minutes. Snot and everything. Not only is this young child now orphaned, but it's in the worst possible environment you could imagine. The days after his father's death where he just sits nearby, guide now lost, are so horribly gut wrenching, as is when he says his goodbye - "I'll talk to you every day" - I wanted to howl. Thank goodness some hope is offered at the end of the film where The Boy is taken in by others intent on keeping him safe. He inherits a family of sorts at the end, but you know he'll grow up into the adult The Father showed him how to be.

It's a beautiful, bleak film with some terrific performances. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are faultless in their commitment to their roles, and utterly convincing as father and son. They have been unfairly overlooked and neglected in the awards season without a shadow of a doubt. Mortensen continues to prove himself as one of the finest actors of his generation, and there's a hugely bright future awaiting Smit-McPhee (he's starring as the lead male role in the American remake of Let The Right One In next year). 

Uncompromsing and grim, but not completely harrowing, The Road should be sought out for its moving story, its poignant characters and for its heart. It carries the fire.

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