film review: The Road (2009)


And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.


I was looking forward to The Road. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I’m all about post-apocalyse movies.

The Road PosterPost-apocalypse / dystopia is a favourite genre of mine. I really like the idea of examining how individuals and society (or societies) might respond in the face of total catastrophe. I suppose I just feel that society is, to a certain degree, a self-perpetuating artificial construct so I wonder, if there is an interruption, what changes would that bring to its perpetuation. Would society collapse? If it does, would a new one rise from its ashes? Would they build it better? Or would the individuals left just eke out survival and that would be it. Is there a critical mass of people needed to create a functioning society? What would happen? It’s fascinating.

Sorry about that random diversion, it’s just that I’ve said in so many posts over the last while that I like post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories so I thought it was about time that I explained it a bit…


This film is an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. He also wrote the novel that 2007’s No Country For Old Men is based on dontyerknow. It’s directed by John Hillcoat, who I hadn’t really heard of before, and stars Viggo Mortensen, a man who surely deserves an Oscar by now. Actually I thought he deserved one for A History of Violence but he wasn’t even nominated that year… Basically The Road is about a man and a boy trying to survive in the world after an unexplained apocalypse.

I really thought I would like this film. Well… ok, it’s not that I didn’t like it… I was just left with the distinct impression that I had seen it all before. And yes, I’ve see a lot of this genre of film and I’ve read a good bit of this genre as well so maybe I have seen it all before; but I was rather hoping that there would be something different about this one. I don’t believe that it’s a completely “done” genre. I still believe that these can be powerful emotional stories, whether they are cautionary, hopeful, funny, depressing, introspective, whatever. Everyone I knew who had read the book says it is so depressing and the reviews (that I’ve skimmed over) are all saying that it’s so crushingly depressing so I was expecting more of an emotional punch here… and I think they missed the mark.

Ok, it was depressing… it’s post-apocalypse. It’s generally depressing. But I didn’t feel involved in their story. Now I will admit, I do generally prefer the genre with a bit more hope than this film and maybe more hope would have made me feel more involved with them… but I don’t really think that was the problem. I think one of the problems I had was that we got little sense of what was driving them. Sure there’s that primal urge to survive, that fire, but it was never fully dealt with in the film. What was driving them? Is it hope? Is it sheer bloody mindedness? There are hints of religion here and there but again, not fully dealt with. Even the breakdown of society wasn’t particularly dealt with…

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not examining the individuals, the society or any particular relateable thematic element (like faith or war or the environment) and nothing much happens plotwise then what is your film about anyway? It’s just a cold look at two people taking a long walk down a road to nowhere… and this walk wasn’t half as eventful as that other long walk Viggo Mortensen went on not that long ago…

…Oh, I don’t know, maybe this is meant to be a story about a father’s love for his son or something. I hope not, because I think that would draw unfair conclusions about the mother… unfair because her story’s never really told either. I’m clutching at straws to find a point to this film really and uh… I kinda sound like I hated it, I didn’t hate it. I guess I just wanted it to be more than just run of the mill. It was very… flat. Well there was one scene in particular that I really liked. That one where our characters showed an emotion other than fear or anger. That was a good scene. I do wish I had read the book, maybe it fills in some blanks…

…Or maybe I really have just seen this story too many times.




  1. comment-avatar
    BorysJanuary 17, 2010 - 10:25 pm

    Good to know, I will keep my expectations low, but I like post-apo as well, so “The Road” and “The Book of Eli” are two must-see for me this year no matter what reviewers say. 🙂

    BTW, have you seen “The Postman” and “Waterworld”? Just wondered what you, as a fellow post-apo fan, thought of them. 🙂 I liked them very much, the first for its epic scope, the latter for the “water” part, even though they were slaughtered by viewers, critics and box office…

  2. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tJanuary 17, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    Ah, don’t expect too little from it either. You might love it, I actually don’t know anyone who didn’t, apart from me and the reviewers in the “rotten” section of its Rotten Tomatoes page 😉

    I never saw The Postman, I didn’t know it was a post apocalypse film actually, must have a look for it. Waterworld I did see and I liked it as well, I don’t know why people gave it so much stick.

  3. comment-avatar
    MarkJanuary 18, 2010 - 6:04 pm

    I’m sorry but the postman is an awful movie. Waterworld (despite being generally disliked) was actually a great action film. And i think there was a better sense of the world and society in tatters in waterworld than there was in The Road. Which is a pity. Cause the road could have been a classic.

  4. comment-avatar
    Jason T.January 23, 2010 - 1:20 am

    I think part of why I enjoyed this film so much is because it’s set in a place that resembles the USA (ok, I cheated, I already knew that some of it was filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and it made the vision that much more horrifying. Another aspect that helps is that the film’s main characters are a father and son, and stories about fathers and sons really hit home for me. The film looks beautiful, there is some dynamite acting, especially from Kodi Smit-McPhee who shed some of the most believable tears I’ve seen from an actor of any age. I wouldn’t say the film is for everyone, but it was one of the best films I saw in 2009.

    By the way, I’m a Waterworld fan, and I think The Postman is underrated (but they could have still shaved an hour off of its running time).

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