Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Road

If all was stripped away what would be important to you? What legacy would you want to pass on to your children? What would drive you? This is a very literal road movie set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. Where this film differs from the plethora of similar films is that no reference is ever made to the apocalypse itself - we simply journey with 'the man' and 'the boy' as they journey southwards to the coast across the USA.

This film poses the archetypal existential question - why are we here? When the hierarchy of Maslow's Triangle is stripped away and every day is a fight for basic survival what values would drive you? How would you cope? Would you want to? What would the vision of paradise that drives your hope be like in your mind?

In flash-back we see the boy being born into a post-apocalyptic world. Shortly afterwards his mother simply walks out, unable to cope. She isn't seen again - the man and the boy simply have each other and very little else.

There are groups of marauding bandits seeking to capture people and engage in cannibalism. There are other people who fear contact with anyone lest they end up being eaten. The dialogue between the boy and his father centres a lot on values, morals and what keeps them going. The father sums up the drive to keep going as 'carrying the fire within'. This is never expanded upon and the viewer is invited to make his/her own interpretation.

For me the main thrust of the story is about the moral values by which the characters in the film live. The boy is born into and grows up in a world that is lacking any kind of organised society. All he has to go on are his instincts, his father's advice and other peoples' behaviour to guide him. The father is more sceptical about others' motives and the son is more open, more generous and more willing to help other people than his father. How did he develop his moral framework? Civilisation has broken down - what does civility look like when that happens?

The way this film is set and shot is magnificent. It is lit with extremely low contrast and a muted palette that really helps to deliver the dystopian vibe. Large parts of the landscape are scorched, the skies are thundery a lot of the time and earthquakes strike without warning. Food is in very short supply and the only mode of transport is by foot. Everything reinforces the feel of hopelessness that pervades the film.

The film is not easy viewing and any good news you find is only hinted at in what lies beyond in the story at the end of the film. I like it that the film leaves lots unresolved. There is no narrative arc - more a linear narrative. We join the story after the beginning and it clearly continues once the film ends. If you want a gritty film with great acting and Direction and don't always need a happy ending a la Disney, then this could be for you. I'll give it 7.5/10.

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