ARTYFACTS: The Road to nowhere - disappointed

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Road to nowhere - disappointed

On the issue of what caused the apocalypse, causes are left out of both book and film. This is generally seen as a strength in both, but I’m not sure. It makes a great deal of difference whether the disaster was man-made (nuclear, climate change) or natural (meteorite, volcanic activity). The two premises are diametrically opposed and really do matter, unless the movie is not about this at all, but about human nature under stress.

So if we turn to human nature, what are we to make of the wife walking out on her husband and son? Is she a victim of depression, despair or nihilism, or, as the line about her ‘cold gift’ suggests, somehow altruistic. The ambiguity here is plain puzzling.

At the heart of the movie is the father-son relationship, but the film doesn’t have the emotional depth of the book. There’s too much hokey dialogue and the boy actor doesn’t really carry the role. The boy is older on the film than in the book, I think, and it was McCarthy’s newly born son, born when he was 70, that inspired the book. Apocalyptic movies always seem to need this man in search of son/daughter theme e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds.

Way above most Hollywood fare, but I still have problems with both the book and movie. They held great promise as harrowing Hobbesian tales but in the end they walk down a more predictable ‘good versus bad’ road. It's fundamentally an 'all American' tale where brutish, marauding males hunt down good, clean-living, God-fearing folk. The US fear of the underclass is ever-present - give these guys a chance and they'll rape you, your children, then eat you! The film fails to address a serious moral issue that's been around since Hobbes. Are we primitive and brutish at heart, needing laws and restraints to curtail our animal instincts? Or are we mostly good at heart, with a mix of selfish and altruistic instincts? The movie, less so the book, gives the usual Hollywood answer. There's good guys and there's bad guys. In the end, the ‘good guys/bad guys’ dialogue was excruciating and the ‘meet the Walton’s’ dog and all, ending, a contrived ‘happy ending’ and confirmation of redemption through the family.

So, in the end, the film says nothing about our role in destroying the planet and nothing significant about human nature. It's just another US apocalyptic, road movie that has its origins in simplictic, US bible belt 'end of days' moralising. Having seen where this road comes from, I'm not sure that it goes anywhere.


The coca-cola scene looks like product placement, but it’s in the book and is actually one of the best scenes in the film. It’s a Tarkowski moment, with the red can and slow drink – you can taste it as it goes down. The film needed more of this and less of the stilted dialogue and obvious moral messages.