Going into this movie, I had no idea what it was about beyond the brief Netflix description of a man and his son in a post-apocalyptic world. What I got was an unrelentingly bleak vision of humanity and death of the world around us. Which all made sense once the movie was over and I saw the “Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy” credit show up. Being that I haven’t read the book because I kind of don’t like his stuff, I’ll just go ahead and talk about the film on its own merits without being compared to the original material.
Normally, when one sees “post-apocalyptic” as a description for a movie you end up with notions of it being like Mad Max or Waterworld or one of the various other action thrillers that are set in the world after some horrible war or event. This movie really isn’t interested in the action or excitement that comes with this type of genre. The main goal of The Road is to show a grey, dying earth where there are atrocities committed just to stay alive and the struggle of attempting to continue on in such a world without losing all hope. In this world, there are no names for the characters and people are just known by their relationship to each other (Father, son, thief, bandit, old man, etc.)
The main tension in the movie is that of the father attempting to do whatever he can to keep his boy safe and alive in this horrible world and the son attempting to do whatever he can to keep his papa from succumbing to the darkness that has swallowed everything around them. The son is always worried that they need to stay “one of the good guys” and is more willing to believe that there is good in the people they meet. The father, however, is constantly on guard and worried about food, water and keeping away from those that would harm or even eat them. It interesting as the world they live in is an ashen wasteland with no color or life to it and you can’t help but vacillate between wanting to believe in the optimism of the boy and agreeing with the cold pragmatism of the man.
The set design of this movie was incredibly well done. There are no cheap “shock shots” that you would normally get in the post-apocalypse movie where you see a crumbling monument or famous building in ruins. Instead it is a world of grey and brown with the occasional splotches of actual color which is always significant in some way like the color of a can of food or the red of blood in the snow. There is no explanation given for what exactly happened to the world which makes the world all the more haunting. There is also a large focus on water in the movie. Most places they sleep are near running water sources and it is constantly raining and the ultimate goal is to reach the coast. There are many images that evoke baptism or the idea of washing away the dirt but every time it rains, the ground is still thick with ash and nothing has really changed.
So, as you may have come to grasp by now, this movie is really dark. It is not the type of thing you would want to watch if you’re feeling depressed at all. That being said, it is a very well done movie. Viggo Mortensen does a great job as the father in the movie and most of the interactions that happen when they are made to interact with strangers are well done. The movie is about two hours long and probably could have been edited down though the long, slow pace of the movie is definitely fitting with the themes. Overall I’d give the movie a 4 out of 5. Well done but not anything I would be recommending to anyone unless I thought they were a bit too happy.