One of the bleakest things I’ve ever read is Cormac McCarthy’s unconventional The Road. It’s a truly great book that follows a nameless father and son tandem trying to make it across a desolate, ashy, post-widespread-death land inhabited by hidden groups of cannibals and other desperate survivors. McCarthy’s prose is so visual, so detailed that reading the book immediately elicits a film, but one that plays out within the mind. (In case you’re not aware, the man also wrote No Country for Old Men.)
The Weinsten Company agreed a while back and gave the greenlight to a film adaptation, directed by Australian relative newcomer John Hillcoat and starring Viggo Mortensen as the father. For reasons that have gone unexplained, though, The Road has sat in the Weinsteins’ waiting room sans firm release date, with only wonderful-looking stills and random insider screening reactions as evidence that the thing even exists. The closest the film has come to a release date, prior to now, was when it looked like a November 2008 entry, just in time for Academy Awards season. But, alas, nothing.
The good news: The Road now has an October 16, 2009 cinema date (fingers crossed that it sticks). The even better news: Tom Chiarella of Esquire mag has seen it, and has written an interesting positive review. Totally worth a read (Link for the story after the jump).
McCarthy’s The Road was one of those quick fix reads that lingered in my thoughts for many days after the completion. “Quick fix” in the sense that it only took about two days to breeze through the text, due to the damaging fishhook it stuck into my head. At first, McCarthy’s awkward writing style felt somewhat uncomfortable; fully-realized paragraphs are replaced by train-of-thought stretches that read more like sonnets. Unexpected descents into hell, particularly a horror movie scene that takes place in a basement of a rundown townhouse, make sure that the disconnect from reality never lessens. What lies at the heart of The Road, though, manages to make its real subtext bite—-how the love of family never falters, the need to protect your loved ones battles through any opposition.
The Road is like a Father’s Day gift that’s full of heart, yet printed in Lucifer’s workshop.
Early word says that Hillcoat’s movie version pulls little, if any, punches. Translates the harshness and grit of the book to the screen with unflinching care and respect. Meaning, The Road will be about as commercially inaccessible as flicks come. It doesn’t take a road scholar to realize that that’s a strong possibility to explain why the film has been held back for so long. Confused, concerned distributors, holding a crowd-downer in their palms when they’d much rather have a stand-up-and-cheer object.
A tease excerpt from Chiarella’s piece:
“When they do move, the father and the son progress through a quietly seething dream, a world at its end. When they run from danger, they clank and rustle and seem wetly destined to never get away. When the father grips the boy’s mouth to quiet him, it is too rough. Rivers seem to be icy sloughs of poison. Yet they swim. They are a father and son. They carry two bullets. Anytime the man turns his back on the boy or separates from him, it feels — in a way that scary, apocalyptic movies often do — as if everything will end. But in those movies, the end never really comes. You know that going in, because generally those movies just flirt with the apocalypse, just offer a little look-see at a tidal wave or a nuclear blast.
The Road is no tease. It is a brilliantly directed adaptation of a beloved novel, a delicate and anachronistically loving look at the immodest and brutish end of us all. You want them to get there, you want them to get there, you want them to get there — and yet you do not want it, any of it, to end.
You should see it for the simplest of reasons: Because it is a good story. Not because it may be important. Not because it is unforgettable, unyielding. Not because it horrifies. Not because the score is creepily spiritual. Not because it is littered with small lines of dialogue you will remember later. Not because it contains warnings against our own demise. All of that is so. Don’t see it just because you loved the book. The movie stands alone. Go see it because it’s two small people set against the ugly backdrop of the world undone. A story without guarantees. In every moment — even the last one — you’ll want to know what happens next, even if you can hardly stand to look. Because The Road is a story about the persistence of love between a father and a son, and in that way it’s more like a remake of The Godfather than some echo of I Am Legend.
Only this one is different: You won’t want to see this one twice.”
Earlier today, I wrote that Shutter Island and Inglourious Basterds are engaging in fisticuffs to win my “Most Anticipated of 2009” honor. Well, I’d wrongly forgotten about The Road. Now, it’s a three-film brawl.
Another strong excerpt from Chiarella’s story:
“People like to see certain components in movies concerning the end of the world. Asteroids. Alien visitation. Angels. Nuclear war. Tidal waves. Climate change. Giant robots. They seem to like leather. And hopped-up cars. Appearances by God. Buildings blow up, cities fall, in real time. Villains, always villains. Snakes are always good. A beautiful woman. But The Road offers none of that. (Except the last one: Charlize Theron has a supporting role as the mother, breathing a little more fully than her character does in the book, solely as the face of despair.)
Plus, let’s face it: The Road does not inherently seem like an asses-in-the-seats proposition. It is adapted from a lyric, repetitive little book, one written in a fashion that nods at classic narrative structure only in its final pages. A book that has found two sorts of readers: the fanatics, who can’t put it down, and the frustrated, who find it so dark, blatantly literary, rhythmically voicey, and without hope that they can’t turn past page 3.”
Link to the entire Esquire story: THE ROAD Is The Most Important Movie Of The Year