A world destroyed without any explanation

Review: The Road
Directed by John Hillcoat, In cinemas now

The Road, a film based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy and brought to the screen by Australian director John Hillcoat tells a bleak story.
Set in America in the near future, a boy and his father are among the wretched survivors on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The cause of the apocalypse is unspoken or unknown.
What is known is that the planet is dead and bandits lurk in the shadows looking for food and fuel.
The father (Viggo Mortensen) is on a mission to keep his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) alive and warm as they journey towards the coast.
You might call this a pessimistic film, or a one-tone film.
Indeed there is little to celebrate apart from the odd bomb shelter filled with canned food or the last can of Coke in a vending machine.
It seems there is no hope for humanity. Suicide is the preferred option for some, a choice the father wrestles with throughout the film.
But it is also a spectacular film to look at. The cinematography is masterfully realised with barren and desolate wastelands and surreal tangled backdrops which dazzle the eye.
The destroyed landscapes are disturbingly beautiful and this does alleviate some of the heaviness of the storyline.
You can sit back and enjoy the scenery which, coupled with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s haunting score, paints a sort of tragic beauty in which to indulge.
It’s kind of like listening to a very sad song on repeat until you wring all the sadness out.
Against this gloomy backdrop it’s not hard for a few things to shine. An old man (Robert Duvall) who they meet on the journey provides one shard of luminance, as does the humanity and kindness of the young boy.
The palette used is overwhelmingly dark though, greys and khakis are the predominant colours along with gunmetal blues and washed-out skin tones.
Cannibalism is alluded to, and is all the more horrifying for its lack of direct graphic depiction.
During my viewing at the cinema, one couple walked out after a particularly harrowing scene.
Perhaps what is most problematic about the film is the premise itself.
The reason for the apocalypse is never mentioned, there is no way of knowing if a nuclear war or meteorological event caused Earth’s destruction.
So the film is apolitical. Religion and faith is mentioned and maybe that’s the only conclusion we are left with.
Things happen for no reason and you’ve just got to keep going. It’s a struggle of life and death.
For socialists this is unacceptable. We must make a class analysis and find the historical and material reason for things even in fiction.
If The Road is simply “art for art’s sake” then it is successful. It is a powerful and beautiful story, though it completely ignores any political or social questions.
Disturbingly, everything in this fictional world seems to be consistent and believable.
It’s the “how we got there” which is missing and intentionally so.
With that in mind, The Road is a great film in and of itself. What it lacks is any new ideas or bold statements. Enjoyable nonetheless.
By Matte Rochford



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