February 23, 2010

The Road less travelled

John Hilcoat's screen adaptation of the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Road is not a film for everyone. It follows the struggle for survival of a Father (Viggo Mortensen) and his Son (Kodi Smith-McPhee) in a stark post-apocalyptic world. We are never told what cataclysm has occurred, only that Mother (Charlize Theron) is unable to deal with the calamity and leaves her family. She tells them to head south, to the presumed safety of the sea.

But the desolate road is fraught with danger. Father and son scavenge for food and fuel, while trying to stay clear of thieves and cannibalistic survivors. Their encounters with these groups are always horrific but watch out for a particularly terrifying sequence inside a house. As if murderous humans aren't enough, it shows the difficult choices that parents have to make to protect their children.

Mr. Mortensen, looking like death warmed over, should have been nominated for his understated portrayal of the unnamed father. He is fiercely protective, defiantly instilling hope and humanity in his son. He tells him to "carry the fire" and reiterates that they are "the good guys", while trying to keep his own despair at bay. The scene where he breaks down at a piano remembering happier times with his absent wife was heartbreaking. Look out for moving performances from an unrecognizable Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce as fellow travellers.

The empty and gray landscapes are disquietingly beautiful. The film is unceasingly grim and very, very depressing. If you dare to watch it, you will be rewarded with a touching story of a father's love for his child. At its heart, it tells us that in a bleak future, even when people are reduced to obeying their selfish, baser instincts, we can still be humane, merciful and honorable creatures.As we filed out of the theater, I heard some adults groaning and complaining. And yet there was this little boy who was there with his father and brother, who simply said he liked the movie. Now THAT gave ME hope.

(photo from filmofilia)

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