Movie Review – The Road

Stars: Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Year of release: 2009

Depending on your particular perspective, “The Road” is either a bleak and terrifying vision of the future, or a hopeful glimpse of the way love survives no matter what.

In an unspecified future (but probably less than a decade away), civilisation has all but been destroyed. In a cold and bleak landscape, among the ruins of our society, a father and his young son struggle to survive.

None of the characters are ever named. Names aren’t important anymore. Only survival matters, and you don’t need a name to survive. You scavenge food from the ruins, you protect what’s yours, and you’re always suspicious.

In this world a man in his forties struggles to protect his son, born as the world was falling apart. He knows he won’t be around to protect him forever; he needs to teach him the harsh realities of survival. His son understands, and yet the young boy can’t bring himself to be as harsh and brutal as his father, despite this world being all he’d ever known.

This is the crux of the movie, I think. How do good impulses, love, human decency, hope, survive in a world that seems geared to crush them? And are they good enough reasons to keep going when despair seems the best response?

“The Road” is based on a critically acclaimed novel, which I’ve been meaning to read, but have never quite got around to. As a result, I came to this movie with no real expectations except that it sounded interesting.

And it is interesting; it defies many conventions. As I said, the characters aren’t named. We’re never told specifically what destroyed the world. For a very long time we don’t know why the father and son are on the road, or what they’re looking for; even when we do know, it seems relatively unimportant. The movie ends at a point some will find inconclusive. And there is not a lot of dialogue.

Despite all the discarded conventions, this is a movie that works. The acting is outstanding. It is largely a two hander, with Viggo Mortenson as the father, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son, carrying the movie. Both are excellent, with Mortenson in particular expressing deep emotions with facial and body expressions alone.

It might not be the best viewing during a pandemic, given the obvious decimation of the on-screen population. But it is a movie that holds out hope, and that turns almost entirely on the love of a father for his son. I wouldn’t call it reassuring, but maybe encouraging. No matter what else we lose, love and hope are hard to extinguish.

This is a movie that rewards attention, and will likely have you coming back to it thoughtfully for some time afterwards. It’s best viewed without interruptions. It’s not exactly enjoyable, given the bleak subject matter, but it’s certainly a movie I appreciated and one that is well worth seeing.

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