An ode to The Road


It’s weird how things turn up and how interconnected context can be at times. There I was watching a Screen Wipe video from Charlie Brooker on YouTube last night, when I caught a tiny piece of music he had used in one of his scenes. It bugged me and bugged me then I remembered it!! Gentle piano, poignant atmosphere painting a canvas of loss, a piece of music from John Hillcoat’s The Road (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel). Which got me curious about who wrote the music for that film, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis no less, on to Google Play I went and I’m now listening to that soundtrack as I write this. That is how my brain works.

This post goes further though and I’d like to share how wonderful the novel and film is (I’ll get into debates about the difference between film and movie another time), although I will base this more around the film than the book, simply because it is my media of choice.

Set in what I always think is a bleak Pennsylvania landscape, the film contrasts between a peaceful, warm life to a harsh, damp existence. The thesis of this story being that our world could (and has changed many times in the past) change in a relative instant. The cause of this bleak future is never spelled out and it never really matters, although the film alludes to some catastrophic event where the man (Viggo Mortensen) and his pregnant wife (Charlize Theron) are awoken during the night to screams and fire. My suspicions lie around a volcanic or asteroid event, given the continual seismic activity throughout the film. In puzzlement the woman (we never know their names) asks why he is running a bath, his answer being “I’m not”, his immediate instincts being survival and he is running the water for drinking purposes.

Cutting back to the present tense of the narrative the bulk of the story follows the journey of the man and his little boy as they navigate across this forsaken landscape, scavenging for scrapes of a lost civilisation. Their only hope is to reach south, where they believe life is starting over. Unfortunately groups of hungry robbers and cannibals lie between them and their destination.

Both the book and the film are not easy to consume. The book has no dialogue and the film has a slow, cold (you feel cold watching it) texture to it, which makes for uncomfortable watching. Particular note is the cannibalistic “meat locker” scene which serves to remind you the lengths that humans will go to survive and really, we are three meals away from societal breakdown.

It’s a story that serves to remind us all how precious this current moment in time we are living in really is. It fascinates me that a natural upset like a super volcano or asteroid impact could knock us into a nuclear winter and global dystopia over night, so while we squabble over man made climate change, mother nature laughs on behind the scenes. This is a story that makes me wonder about how well we could adapt to such change, the man running the bath at the start of the film is an interesting, subtle character reflection. It’s no surprise that he makes it through to the final few. Even he doesn’t fully escape the horror and fate of the situation.

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