Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Father to son

It seems apropos to write about The Road (2009) immediately after Wild Boys of the Road. They share mood and setting--males traveling through a hostile environment, fighting for survival, forced to keep moving, struggling to preserve relationships.

The natural comparisons are to Children of Men or even Zombieland, road movies of survival in a burnt-out, post-apocalyptic world. Director John Coghill spoke of avoiding Mad Max references in the film's iconography. But by one-third of the way through the film, the comparisons I was thinking of were Chaplin's The Kid and De Sica's Bicycle Thieves.

All three films are stories of flawed and desper men trying to convey what they know of life to their sons under terrible conditions. All of them want their sons to know that, no matter what is going on now, life is good, and that you were brought into this world to enjoy it and to bring joy and goodness to others. I think that might be a description of what it is to be a man.

Viggo Mortensen and his scene-partner Kobi Smit-McPhee are astonishingly convincing. Mortensen's progress and degeneration provide a structure for what could have been a meandering or relentless film, and his commitment to the story is unquestioned. After A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, is there any doubt that Mortensen who can be the linchpin of important and difficult projects?

A few other random observations. The title, The Road is shared with Fellini's early masterpiece about circus life, known here by its Italian name, La Strada. "The Road" in show business means the hinterlands, traveling to entertain the rubes. "Hit the road" also means to get away from the routine of modern daily life. "The road" used to be associated with romance and adventure. Was that an intentional irony by McCarthy? Or is this another Road to Perdition?

The film is sad, but what is even sadder is that its vision of a destroyed world was achieved without a lot of special effects. The landscapes in the first part of the film are those of Mt. St. Helens, and much of the film was shot in the Rust Belt, especially parts of Pennsylvania devastated by the loss of America's industrial might. Giant plumes of smoke in the background were taken from footage of the World Trade Center collapse and a ruined landscape with large ships beached on land was taken from post-Katrina footage. It's sad that the entire end of the world could be staged using the world as it appeared in 2007, without tricks or effects?

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