I respect Cormac McCarthy for exploring the less stylish side of the apocalypse. While many modern fictional outlets have given a real sense of sensationalism to the end of the world, “The Road” is an often uncompromising, cruel, and disturbing look at the end of civilization. It’s a world full of cowards, a world where humans prey on one another out of desperation for food, and it’s a world where there’s literally no hope. The world is dying all around a man and his son, and the pair can do nothing but hold tighter together and spend every waking hour looking for food. Viggo Mortensen who plays the man known by his son as simply papa is a haggard shell with dirty nails, stained teeth, and a gradually fading health, while his son spends most of the story taking on the weight of the world. And yet, even when confronted with the worst of human cruelty, he can not find the worst in humanity. He wants to believe there’s still some good in the world.
Even when the pair are being stalked by a large band of cannibals who capture humans and use them for food, he still won’t relinquish his idea that the last of the world’s remnants should be helping one another rather than abandoning one another in the darkness. Director John Hillcoat never detracts from the madness and carnage of the apocalypse and instead zeroes in on the loathsome and disgusting side of humanity that will do anything to stay alive. Man and his Boy do their best to show themselves and the world that will not submit to their baser urges, when they realize that they’re not only starving but Man is dying from a lung disease. As the world dies and food runs low, Man and Boy travel across the land looking for any resources and struggling to live one more day in the face of starvation, dehydration and delirium. Kod Smit McPhee is marvelous as Boy, a young child who looks at everything in his world with a wide eyed wonder, no matter how decrepit it may be, and Man does everything in his power to make his experience as numb and easy as possible. That becomes incredibly hard when no food presents itself and they begin to resort to eating bugs.
It’s also a struggle when they have to avoid the roaming bands of cannibals that are trapping and snaring survivors and using them for food. Man insists that they’re the bad guys, hence why they’ve destroyed their sense of being and submitted to their primal urges, while insisting he and Boy remain the good guys who never kill, never steal, and never eat other people to stay alive. To do so would be selfish and Boy knows that, even when he stays away from hunger pains. Much of “The Road” is based on simple but stressful bouts of survival as Man and Boy scour the lands for any resources and take in the most minute moments with joy. From bathing in a large water fall submitting to a bout of relief, to Boy’s first ever can of soda, director Hillcoat catches these moments in gut wrenching glory that are sold with superb performances by Viggo Mortensen and McPhee. “The Road” can often be a grueling and relentlessly depressing film about the end of the world, and doesn’t really hold any punches.
The cannibals are blood thirsty and desperate enough for food that they will murder children, and the environment is bare not even rodents allow an appearance for a chance at food. McCarthy’s story is incredibly melancholy and presents only a single spark of hope in the darkness of that is human savagery and with the final moments, “The Road” becomes a sadly overlooked masterpiece. Mercilessly depressing, grim, and brutal in its depiction of the apocalypse, “The Road” is a marvelous look at the end of the days and how unremarkable they will be for anyone looking to survive beyond a week. With excellent performances, and a gripping morality tale, it’s a title worth seeking.