The Road is a 2009 American post-apocalyptic film directed by John Hillcoat and written by Joe Penhall. It is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and his young son, it follows them as they journey across a barren, post-apocalyptic America, hoping to find safety and a better life. The film is best classified as a sci-fi drama, thriller, and adventure movie that explores survival, morality, and love in a world without rules and morals.
Initially scheduled to be released in late 2008, the release was ultimately pushed to October 2009, and reports have since suggested that the move was intended to make the movie a contender at the Oscars.
The Road: A Plot Summary
The film is set in a world that has been destroyed by an unexplained disaster, leaving the landscape barren and the sky gray. Plant life has perished, and only a few animals are left living. To survive, most of the remaining humans have turned into desperate, violent scavengers and cannibals.
The father and son struggle to carry on as they scavenge for food, avoid dangerous gangs of cannibals, and try to stay warm in the bitter cold. They follow a road toward the coast, hoping to find safety and a better life. As they journey south, they encounter other survivors, some of whom offer help and others who pose a threat. They come across an old man (played by Robert Duvall) and a thief (played by Michael K. Williams), who offer brief moments of companionship and insight into their bleak world.
Throughout their journey, the father and son constantly struggle to hold on to their humanity and morality as they are forced to make difficult decisions to survive. The father is plagued by memories of his wife (played by Charlize Theron), who took her own life rather than face the horror of the world they now inhabit. As they reach the coast, the father falls ill and becomes increasingly weak after suffering an injury. In a final act of love and sacrifice, the father implores his son to continue without him, keep going, and never give up hope before ultimately passing away.
The film ends with the son continuing down the road after meeting another family of travelers who claimed to have followed the boy and his father for a while.
The Road: Themes
Some of the main themes in The Road include:
Throughout the film, the father and son must constantly scavenge for food and supplies while avoiding danger from hostile survivors and the harsh environment. They must also deal with their journey’s physical and emotional toll, as hunger, fatigue, and despair threaten to overwhelm them. Their primary aim is to survive and arrive at the coast.
The theme of survival can be seen in the father’s decision to kill a man who was going to harm them. While the father is initially reluctant to take a life, he recognizes that he must do whatever it takes to protect his son and keep them both alive.
The importance of survival is also demonstrated in the joy the father and son experience as they feast after discovering an abandoned house with a hidden cellar filled with food and supplies. While they feel safe at the house, their survival is not the most important thing because they have found food, water, and shelter. However, as soon as the father begins to feel the house is no longer safe, they are once again in survival mode.
The film raises questions about what it means to be human and what values are essential to remaining true to one’s humanity.
Regardless of what they faced, the father’s insistence on maintaining a sense of decency and humanity, even in extreme hardship, exemplifies human morality. He teaches his son to be kind to others, to help those in need, and to always treat others with respect and dignity. He also refuses to resort to cannibalism, even when faced with starvation.
Morality is also shown in the film through the father’s decision to spare the life of a thief who has attempted to steal their belongings. Despite the thief’s actions, the father recognizes the humanity in him and chooses to let him go rather than kill him.
The film also explores the concept of hope and how it relates to morality. The father and son hold onto the hope that they will find safety and a better life, and this hope drives them to continue their journey, even when all seems lost.
The Road shows that even in a world where civilization has collapsed and morality is challenged, it is possible to hold on to one’s values and to find meaning and purpose in life.
- Father-Son Relationship
The father-son relationship is at the core of the story told in The Road. Throughout the film, the father takes on the role of protector and guide, leading his son through the world and teaching him all he needs to know. The son also relies on his father for comfort and reassurance in a dangerous and constantly changing world.
The father’s illness towards the end of the film highlights the depth of their relationship. As the father becomes weaker, their roles begin to reverse, and the son takes on a more active role in protecting and caring for his father. The father’s death is a devastating blow to the son, who must now face the world alone, but he carries his father’s memory with him and continues to rely on the lessons his father taught him.
The story demonstrates how important a bond between a parent and a child is, particularly in a treacherous world. It also highlights the roles each party typically takes in such a relationship and how a parent-child relationship can improve the quality of life for each individual.
The Road: Cinematography and Visuals
The cinematography and visuals in The Road play a crucial role in creating the desolate, bleak world in which the film is set. With a muted color palette and desolate landscapes, the visuals convey the despair and hopelessness that the characters in the film find themselves in.
Muted colors are relied on heavily in the film. The color palette is predominantly gray and brown, with very few bright colors present, conveying the sense of a world drained of color and happiness.
The desolate landscapes are also a significant element of the film’s visual style. The film was shot in various locations in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Oregon, and the landscapes depicted are barren and bleak, with little vegetation or animal life. The abandoned buildings and cities that the father and son come across further emphasize the sense of a world emptied of humanity.
A strategic combination of these visuals and cinematography creates a mood that emphasizes the challenges the father and son face as they struggle to survive in a world where even the necessities are scarce. The visual style also contributes to the sense of isolation and loneliness that the characters experience, highlighting the sense of loss and emptiness that pervades their journey.
The Road: Acting and Characters
The performances of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road are exceptional and a major reason why the film is so powerful and affecting.
Viggo Mortensen delivers a nuanced and powerful performance as the unnamed father, imbuing the character with stoic determination and deep love for his son. Mortensen’s portrayal of the character’s emotional struggles is particularly impressive, as he conveys the father’s sense of loss and despair without ever resorting to melodrama or overacting. The character’s development throughout the film is also impressive, as Mortensen effectively portrays the father’s growing hopelessness and acceptance of his own mortality.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays the son, is equally impressive. Despite his young age, Smit-McPhee’s acting is refined and impactful, effectively conveying the character’s innocence and vulnerability. His chemistry with Mortensen is also excellent, and their interactions on-screen help drive the film’s emotional core.
Throughout the film, both characters develop significantly as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The father becomes increasingly desperate as he confronts the harsh realities of their situation, while the son must navigate the challenges of growing up in a world where survival is the only goal. Both actors effectively convey the emotional and physical toll of these struggles.
The Road: Reception and Impact
The Road is notable for its focus on character development and exploration of moral themes rather than relying on special effects and futuristic technology. The film’s emphasis on the human element of a post-apocalyptic world, and the struggles of its characters to survive in a harsh and unforgiving landscape, has influenced many subsequent sci-fi films and TV shows, such as The Walking Dead and The 100.
The Road’s impact on the drama genre is also significant, as the film’s emphasis on character development and emotional themes has helped to elevate it beyond typical post-apocalyptic fare. The film’s exploration of themes such as morality, survival, and the bond between father and son has resonated with audiences and helped establish The Road as a genre classic. Although it didn’t win any nominations or awards at the Oscars, it did win several other awards for its impact and quality.
The Road is ultimately a poignant expression of the unbreakable bond between a loving father and his son. No matter the obstacles placed before him in this unforgiving environment, the father never stops trying to valiantly protect his son and teach him valuable lessons about morality and humanity. Anyone who enjoys dramas, sci-fi, or adventure movies will undoubtedly enjoy watching The Road.