Film Vs. Book: The Road
This Week: The Road, written by Cormack McCarthy in 2006, and directed by John Hillcot in 2009. Stepping into the world of The Road is not an easy task. It is a series of vignettes that follow a man and his son as they travel south through an apocalyptic America. This is neither the heroic landscape of Waterworld, nor the “cosy catastrophe” of Day of The Triffids. Animal and Plant life are as good as vanished, food is becoming scarce, and cannibalism, rape and murder seem more common than clean clothing, friendship and shoes. On this constant parade of misery, any glimmer of hope or love is amplified, and it is here that its genius lies. We come away realising just how much we have to lose in terms of humanity, and how important it is to treasure what we have. The book drops you straight into this, and is the literary equivalent of a crab being tossed into boiling water. McCarthy is stunningly good at not only creating a world, but making it clear as day what is going. We never learn why the Earth had ended up in such a horrific state, and it is the least of our worries as the characters push on through it. What could have dragged works thanks to the emotional link between the two main characters. In a world of nothing, their love for each other is heartbreakingly warm, if chillingly desperate. The son is described as “the boy who carries the fire.” In any other work this would seem rather trite; here you can almost feel the glow of innocence and forgiveness from his chest. The film looks beautiful, which considering the horrific nature of the subject matter is very impressive. One rather depressing feature is that New Orleans was used for many of the locations; The Road sadly can’t be dismissed as pure fantasy. Fantastic acting from the whole cast sucks you in further, and there is no trouble in believing Viggo Mortensen and the actor playing his son are related. The threatening characters are true symbols of evil, and the “meat locker” is a true vision of hell. Ignore the trailer that marketed this as an action thriller, this is a slow ride into the psychology of man, and there are no easy scenes.
However, it is far from perfect. It is ultimately a reflection of its source material, just as gorgeous but lacking some of the depth of the original. The book plays with the characters’ interactions just a bit more than the film. Its point of view switches constantly, but methodically. Sometimes we appear to be sitting on the man’s shoulder, other times he is a shadowy creature from his own son’s eyes. McCormack’s work digs just that little bit deeper into the psyche of its characters and in the world as a whole, whereas at times it feels like the film is just running for the finish line. It has strange omissions and additions from the original source material, and despite a very similar ending its final note feels rather false. Hollywood’s formulaic claws are not deeply embedded in this piece, but they do rather tickle on a first viewing. So this time: Congratulations all round, and both are well worth a look, but The Book edges ahead due to its deeper emotional impact and marginally tighter plot.