Saturday, 21 May 2016

Film Review - 'The Road'





The world is dying a slow, and very painful, death. An unnamed, and almost entirely unexplained, catastrophe has caused temperatures to being to drop to almost unlivable levels. Food has become increasingly scarce - to such an extent that some groups of desperate survivors have turned toward cannibalism just to survive. And, in the middle of it all, a man and his young son make their way across the country, following the faint hope of a place where things are not yet quite so bleak.

That's really all there is to the over-arching story of The Road - in both the film, and the original novel by Cormac McCarthy on which it is based. The novel on which the film is based was written in a distinctly minimalist style - so, naturally, the film can really only follow suit.

As the man and his son, neither of whom are ever named, make their way toward an unknown destination, the story follows their progress - and, the audience finds itself in the role of observer in their desperate, perhaps even hopeless, search for a safe haven. In almost painful detail, we are shown the pair's struggles to survive on meager supplies, their near escapes from roving bands of cannibals, and their constant efforts to just keep moving. At points, the story may offer a faint glimmer of hope to these dual protagonists - but, it does so seemingly only so that this hope can eventually be stripped away.

The Road is a very bleak film, certainly - though, I probably wouldn't go so far as to call it 'depressing'. Don't misunderstand, though - this is definitely a film that wants to bring out that sort of strong emotional reaction in its audience. It's just that the film was never quite able to get to that point, for me.

One, particularly morbid, analogy that came to mind while I was watching The Road is that the experience was a bit like coming across the aftermath of a car-crash. You might slow down to have a look, and you would certainly feel a vague sort of concern for the people involved - but, seeing that the situation has already been dealt with, you would soon continue on your way. By the end of the day, the experience will have become little more than an anecdote to share with your friends and family. In the end, you just don't have the emotional connection with these strangers for the experience to make a lasting impact on you - and, there really isn't anything wrong with that. A certain level of emotional distance is a necessary defense mechanism in our day-to-day lives.

When we're talking about fictional characters in a story clearly intended to play on our emotions, though, this sort of emotional distance isn't really what you want. In the end, the main issue is that The Road just gives us very little opportunity to actually get to know its cast of characters, and no chance at all to become emotionally invested in their fates.

For much of its run-time, The Road is really little more than a constant parade of bleakness and tragedy - and, with very few exceptions, you will spend the entirety of this film watching the unnamed man, and his unnamed son, suffer in various ways. And, through it all, the film's stubborn refusal to let up makes it increasingly difficult to care.

With the film seemingly so intent on not giving me the opportunity to know these characters in any other context, it effectively prevented me from forming any sort of connection with either of them. In the end, The Road wasn't a depressing film, for me - as much as it clearly wanted to be. But, it was an oddly exhausting one. My attitude toward the film, to use another very morbid analogy, felt more like that of a doctor toward a terminal patient, rather than a family member.

That being said, though, it's actually interesting to note that the film actually succeeds quite admirable in just about every other way. The depiction of this slowly dying world is, quite often, visually stunning - if, for obvious reasons, in a very bleak way. Every performance, even those that may only last the length of a single scene, is given with conviction - with the film's talented cast seeming entirely invested in the task of bringing this film to life - with the stand-out, here, obviously being Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as the unnamed father and son. The soundtrack, composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is also something special - managing to be sombre, haunting, and actually quite beautiful.

In the end, it was really only at the film's emotional core where it failed for me - but, unfortunately, it failed in a very real, and very profound, way. The film begins with bleakness and tragedy - and, it ends in much the same way. So, I felt as though I was kept from ever forming any sort of emotional attachment to either of these characters - and, as a result, I was unable to genuinely care about what happened to either of them.

The Road was still an impressive film, in a variety of ways - but, in the end, the process of actually watching it become more of a case of morbid curiosity. Honestly, by the time that it ended, I was just glad that it was over.

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