As the holidays drew to a close and television programming returned to normal, I noticed a strange trend about the film releases of January 2010; nearly every week contains a movie set in a post-apocalyptic future. It started with the Road and ends with the release of Legion. Since December 12 2012 is almost a year away, I’ve taken it upon myself to determine what we should know about our post-apocalyptic future.
The film is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, the same author who wrote Old Country for Old Men, which was adapted into the very successful Coen Brothers film. The Road, the novel, won McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1997, and was conceived after visit to El Paso Texas with his son.
The Road is a simple story about a father and son trying to survive after a global catastrophe. Neither the book nor the movie provide any sort of explanation of the catastrophe. the large amount of ash and charred vegetation that the father and son trek through seem to suggest an environmental catastrophe or a large scale military conflict. There are no animals no vegetation, just a scorched earth and roving bands of humans, most of whom have turned to cannibalism in order to survive.
The father, known to the audience only as Man, played by Viggo Mortensen and his son, (Boy) is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee are traveling south in order to escape the winter. They are trying to make it to the coast, the last symbol of hope left in this charred America. The Man and the Boy have taken their last moral stand, refusing to eat other humans even if that means starvation. They have a shopping cart with their last scraps of supplies: a couple of blankets, some scraps of food, and one revolver with two bullets left, which they may have to use on themselves.
After dispatching a cannibal who literally caught them sleeping and reducing their bullets to one, the Man faces his toughest dilemma yet. If the occasion arrives where they can not escape, the Man must either convince the Boy to kill himself or kill the boy before they are captured. It slowly erodes the last of the Man’s empathy as the Boy’s continues to grow. This chiasmatic character change combined with the Man’s cough that seems to signal his oncoming death keeps the last third of the movie from becoming repeated scenes of them looking for food. This conflict is captured in a scene where the Man and the Boy are robbed by another survivor, get their things back, and the Man forces the survivor to strip naked. The Boy forces the Man to return the clothes and leave him with a can of food.
The film written by Joe Penhall and directed by John Hillcoat hit the emotional core of McCarthy’s work. The Man and the Boy have to become as ruthless and paranoid as the cannibals around them. The Man and the Boy are forced to leave a group of captured humans, can not help a mother and her son, and abandon an old man in order to save themselves. The Boy continues to force the Man to continue to give away food. The Boy is the only thing in that the Man loves. In turn, the Boy has internalized that love and attempts to show that love to others. Love survives through the boy and in turn humanity survives through the boy.