"Are we the good guys?" --Kodi Smit-McPhee
Anyone who has seen Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men knows that novelist Cormac McCarthy has a dark mind. The Road, which is also based upon one of his books, follows in its predecessor's sinister footsteps. Yet for all its darkness and depravity, it is also a tale of heart wrenching courage, tenacity, and human emotion.
In a post-apocalyptic world where almost all plant and animal life had died off, a father and son (Mortensen and Smit-McPhee) make a tedious trek south in search of land with at least some viable resources. Their journey is complicated by the terrain, which is cold, barren, and permanently gray and riddled with wild fires and earthquakes. The greater danger, however, is people, particularly in a time rampant with violence and cannibalism due to a lack of food sources. (On a side note, being forced to watch this film in a theater with a broken furnace made their hardships seem even more real, and I've never been so grateful to be able to leave and grab a warm meal in my life.)
As I watched the movie, I started to worry about where it was going to go with the story; the horror of such a plight weighs heavily on the viewer. My fears were assuaged, however, by the powerful depiction of the relationship between a man and his child. The father has been hardened by several years of pain and atrocity and thus has lost his ability to see the good in people, save for his son. His boy is his sole reason for going on, and so protecting him is a goal that becomes two fold: It is born out of the intense love that a parent has for his/her child, and it is his own lifeline. At the other end of the spectrum, the son hasn't known any other kind of life, yet his innate sense of innocence and naivety allow him to feel compassion for others. In one particularly touching scene, the father and son argue over whether to share their dwindling food stock with an elderly crippled man (played by a barely recognizable Robert Duvall) who they encounter along the way. The boy's argument is simple but ultimately effective: The man is hungry and dying.
The performances by both Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are brilliant and incredibly emotional, and the father/son bond they portray is wrought with emotion. Charlize Theron's role as the wife/mother is a minor one, but she plays it effectively. Kudos to director John Hillcoat for staying true to the book and keeping her part small, as star power can often lead to needlessly bloated roles. The Road definitely isn't for the squeamish as there are some particularly disturbing scenes of violence. However, its journey into mankind at its basest and most vulnerable is moving, thought-provoking, and likely to stick with you long after the fact. It's been a while since a movie has left me nearly sobbing, particularly from a combination of sheer brutality and love for the human condition. Thank you, Mr. Hillcoat, for reminding me how beautiful this ugly world can be.