directed by John HillcoatThe great thing about apocalypses is the way they force you to focus on what really matters. For an unnamed father (Viggo Mortensen) that means taking care of his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and making sure the pair of them have enough to eat. It's not an easy task in a world where food has stopped growing and all the animals have died.
We're not told why or how this catastrophe has come about, merely that it has. Presumably something like a nuclear war has taken place, followed by a devastating nuclear winter. Ash covers everything. Without any vegetation or animal life the world has become grey and cold.
This isn't an entirely convincing post-apocalyptic scenario. It seems unlikely that so many people would survive a disaster that's been so uniformly devastating to other forms of life. However The Road isn't all about providing a realistic explanation for one possible way civilisation might meet its end. It's more concerned with the way people cope with despair when they face the bleak situation of the prospect of starvation.
Father and son trek across America, heading south in the hope of reaching the coast. But starving people have started to turn on each other, so the two of them need to be very careful. At the start of the story they have a gun, but only two bullets for defending themselves from robbers or cannibals. But will they need to use those bullets on themselves instead?
Throughout the movie there are flashbacks to the time when the boy's mother (Charlize Theron) was still around. Those times were sometimes happier, but now the father has the added burden of what he has lost, although the boy has no memories of the way the world used to be.
The Road isn't a cheery movie by any means. It's an exploration of hopelessness, full of people who have lost almost everything. There are some graphic scenes of violence and death. Yet it's not quite as grim as that description suggests. Both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee put in intense performances, and the relationship between these characters brightens the movie up.
Although there are a few horrific and bloody action scenes, on the whole this is a slow-paced story rather than an all-action frightfest. The drawn-out pace adds to the tension, as well as giving us time to get to know the central characters thoroughly. As a result this film can be deeply moving. It may not be the kind of thing you'd want to watch when you're feeling low, but if you're in the mood for an emotional and thoughtful experience it's spot on.
8th June 2010
Review © Ros Jackson