Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Road

For a change the Wellington Film Society got a scoop on a new film due for general release on 18 March (courtesy of the Paramount). The Road stars Viggo Mortensen as a father protecting his son in a post-apocalyptic world. Post-apocalyptic films are almost genre of their own. Usually they are either a sub-genre of SciFi or Horror, but in this case it is more of a human interest drama.

The lead characters in The Road don't have names, they refer to each other as Papa and Son. The film centres around Viggo Mortensen's character's all consuming goal of keeping his son and himself alive after his wife has committed suicide in despair that civilization will never return and humanity will inevitably starve to death. It is unusually bleak for an American film. Things start badly and you are left in no doubt that they will not get better.
The future is not a nice place and you have to be prepared to put aside niceties to survive, but will that turn you into a bad person?
Father and son are travelling somewhere ("south to the coast") but it doesn't matter as the father knows it is a futile exercise. The question is: how selfish and inhuman do you have to be to survive in a world where they will be no new food? As the father is driven to more and more extreme acts to survive, his distance on the moral spectrum from the cannibals at the other end is getting shorter and shorter, and his son's questions become his conscience. The latter is an interesting device. Which doesn't entirely make sense, given that the boy (a foetus when the catastrophe happened) has never known our pre-apocalyptic society and moral values.

I am in two minds about the ending as to whether it is a cop-out or a useful shock to underline message of the film and possibly undermine the inevitability of the moral journey. Either way iI think it was clumsily done. This may seem vague and hand-wavy but I don't want to give away too much about the ending in case you go and see it.

Like Where the Wild Things Are the plot is a light for a full length feature film but given that this film has to take you on an emotional and moral journey into the despair of its characters it probably needs most of the 11o minutes to get the audience there. The scenery, lighting and weather and other CGI effects all work to get you there. Winter in this film - grey, cold and muddy - is properly miserable.

Viggo Mortensen dominates the film and even Kodi Smit-McPhee (playing his son and constant companion) is effectively in a supporting role. There are cameo roles for Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall - the former representing a romanticised past (i.e. civilization).

Some of the filming was done on the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike which I'd never heard of before, but looks like a useful place for film makers.

Ian's rating 3/5

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