Coming to our local Cineworld three weeks after release, I finally got to see the film version of Cormac McCarthy's moving and brutal post-apocalyptic father & son journey story The Road.
In 2008 I took part in a YouTube user collaborative project for Channel 4's "3 Minute Wonder" slot - everyone submitting footage that would then be re-edited into four short films that were inspired by McCarthy's Pulitzer Price winning book. At this stage I hadn't read the book - but got the jist of it before submitting my footage (which was one of the chosen pieces to be edited into the final films which showed during the last week of October 2008 on Channel 4).
Shortly afterwards I bought the book and was thoroughly impressed by the sparse verse that managed to convey such a strong sense of how an unexplained, but sweeping disaster, had turned the world into a cruel and vile place where the few good struggled endlessly against roaming gangs of cannibals (still few in number, but certainly out-numbering those refusing to succumb to cannibalism).
However, that is merely the world presented, the crux of The Road is "Man" and "Boy", a father and son who lumber on, following the road south to find a warmer climate, and how they cope along the way. It's a powerful and moving read, with some of the most heart-felt final pages ever written.
Similarly the film adaptation is uncompromisingly bleak in its presentation. The terrifying glimpses of cannibalistic behaviour in the book are now written large in brief moments of abject and visceral horror, but these are thankfully punctuated by quiet and caring moments between Viggo Mortenssen (perfect casting) and Kodi Smith-McPhee's (nailing the tone of his character from the book) "Man" and "Boy".
The discovery of a can of Coke (calm down "advertising!!!1!!!1!" freaks - it was in the book, and Coca Cola had to be personally convinced by Viggo himself to allow their product to be used), or sharing the spoils of a lucky find, or the father bathing his starving son - even the moment that they address the Man comes from a world entirely alien to that of the Boy, are all moving and fascinating moments.
While the book might go into more detail and speak of things that film can rarely show in such detail, the film is a more intense experience. You can put the book down every few pages if your reading time is brief, but the film grasps your attention for two whole hours and lays out the visuals in gritty, cold examination. So in terms of impact, it's a draw, but for different reasons on each side.
The book is a meandering journey with moments of sharp action or horror, so the film has a slow-burn pace that transcends your usual 'movie apocalypse' style. This isn't Mad Max, this is what the end of the world would really be like. It's harsh, cruel, bleak and at times intensely tragic - but in amongst it all are clutches of something brighter, of a glimmer of hope for the future no matter how uncertain it may be. Ultimately The Road (both book and film) is a rewarding experience. It most definitely isn't a barrel of laughs (duh), or a Hollywood action extravaganza (as one trailer so inexplicably painted it as) ... what it is, is a thoughtful and moving piece of filmmaking ... and it's a strong contender for my own personal Film of 2010.
As a side note to finish on, the score (by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis) is just superb. The pair had previously scored The Assassination of Jesse James (one of my all-time favourites), and proved they have unending skill and craft - with The Road, they have out-done themselves. Just like the film, the soundtrack is emotional and thought provoking. Incredible.