The Road – A film review

Writing in the ‘Australian Literary Review’ (Dec, 2009), critic Mark Mordue praises film director John Hillcoat’s masterly and faithful adaption of Cormac McCarthy’s 1996 novel ‘The Road’, comparing it with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and its translation to the screen almost a half century before. This may seem like an odd parallel to draw, confesses Mordue:

Harper Lee’s child’s-eye view of small-town life in Alabama and her heroic depiction of a widowed father confronting southern racism — along with the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck as the supremely noble embodiment of that figure, the attorney at law Atticus Finch — have an idealistic 1950s sheen to them.

Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic vision of our future in The Road would appear a world away from this reassuring feminine ideal (based on Lee’s childhood). In it an unnamed father and his son trudge south across a wasteland towards the coast. They push a shopping trolley full of scavenged supplies as they flee the onset of what seems to be a nuclear winter, though we are never sure what has reduced our civilisation to ashes. McCarthy prefers to concentrate on the journey the father and son make, dispensing with any back story in a few spartan sentences: “The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.”

Father and son make their pilgrimage to survive through a charred landscape veiled by rain and snow, past poisoned rivers and dead forests vertiginously shaken by earthquakes, through the monochrome misery of deserted cities and on towards hollow-feeling skies split by far-off lightning. An environmental as much as man-made apocalypse is heavily implied, more so than in the novel.This rupture to the natural order has the stage pitch of Shakespearean tragedy, with close-ups by lamp and fire light sketched by Samuel Beckett, as well as an authenticity that may give even the most ardent climate change doubter pause for thought.

Read the full and award-winning film review at The Australian …