Travelling ‘The Road’ as a cinephile

The Road FilmHaving recently read the ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, I decided to watch the film version, intrigued by how one might go about translating McCarthy’s powerful words to the screen. Directed by John Hillcoat and featuring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the father and son, the film version of ‘The Road’ promised to be a vivid reflection of the book with its bleak, grey and stormy film poster. The truth is however, that this poster is probably the very best aspect of the film. For me, a major let-down. 

I will not deny that the scenery and cinematography were well produced to mirror the bleak and frightening atmosphere of the book; the professionals behind these aspects of the film did a stellar job of setting a post-apocalyptic scene. However, that’s where the positive attributes ended for me.

The acting, the casting, the tension, the structure and the general focus of the film were all disappointing and by no means did the book the justice it deserves. McCarthy’s best-seller focuses predominantly on the relationship between man and boy, father and son; the brutality, fragility and strength of unconditional love and the measures one takes to protect and guide the beholder of one’s heart. For me, the book’s naked and poignant illustration of this very theme was the key to its success. The makers of the film however, didn’t quite seem to understand where the focus ought to be. John Hillcoat’s interpretation was a messy mixture of father and son, husband and wife, then and now and thereby distracted from the powerful journey of man and boy.

The acting was also, in my opinion, sub-par. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as a thirteen year-old, can obviously not be expected to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, but that said, I was still not impressed. Nor was I pleased by Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the father. The two together did not at all create a sense of family love with many of the moving lines that I remembered from the book delivered in such a way as to hardly convey their intended poignancy and weight, leaving me almost entirely unaffected. The only time throughout the film that I felt myself provoked was upon seeing a couple of the more disturbing images that, it must be said, had nothing to do with the acting or the relationships.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t label the film as ‘terrible’ or ‘disastrous’ and can acknowledge that others may have greatly differing opinions of it to me, but I cannot at all say that I enjoyed it. Though the basic storyline remained relatively true to the book, the essence of McCarthy’s message was lost and in my opinion, that is a tragedy. The book version of ‘The Road’ is a magnificent and thought-provoking read, one that I recommend to everyone. The film however, is not.

Let me know what you think of the book, the film and how you would compare the two!

‘The Road’ – a journey with Cormac McCarthy

The Road Cormac McCarthy

Last week I was perusing the shelves of an acquaintance’s personal library that I’d define as an amalgam of thriller, mystery, crime and action novels, predominated by the works of Daniel Silver, Lee Child and James Patterson. I came across one book among the many however, that didn’t quite fit in with its neighbours: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’d heard of this book of course, there now being a ‘major motion picture’ of it, but I’d never really taken much of an interest in it and therefore knew little to nothing about it.

Aside from the blurb, the back cover showcased an impressive collection of review exerts from major global publications, all commending McCarthy on this literary triumph.

“Consistently brilliant.” – The New York Times

“Wildly powerful.” – Time

“The writing throughout is magnificent.” – Chicago Sun Times

And so, I decided to read it. I wonder, why has nobody ever recommended this book to me? To describe it in a handful of words: intriguing, sobering, chilling, heart-warming and heart-breaking.

The Story

‘The Road’ will break your heart, warm your heart, soften your heart, harden your heart and make your heart skip a beat or twenty. A searing, post-apocalyptic tale of father and son, the book is essentially an exploration of the heart, the mind, human instincts, the mentality of survival and the nature of unconditional love. Without ever mentioning the names of the two main characters, nor the names of any countries, towns or dates, McCarthy very powerfully strips his book of superficial distractions and thereby creates a timeless, focused and naked tale of love.

The Writing

The first thing you notice when you begin reading McCarthy’s highly acclaimed best-seller is the complete and total lack of chapter titles and quotation marks. At first, I found this slightly off-putting, as the descriptions and the direct speech wove in and around each other seamlessly, standing in stark contrast to the highly punctuated literature that I’m used to. But once immersed in the story and flowing easily with its rhythm, I found that this style of writing served to accentuate the story’s themes of sparsity, simplicity, bare survival and unadulterated love.

In addition to this very daring and clever bastardisation of the traditional narrative, I can confidently say that McCarthy has an astounding command of the English language, exercising his knack for vividness and poignancy throughout ‘The Road’. While some paragraphs were purely for the sake of reporting action, others were dedicated entirely to intense, moving and thought-provoking contemplations, delving into the very fragile psyches of the post-apocalyptic mind.

My Conclusion

‘The Road’ was a spontaneous read for me and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much; I was free from preconceived notions of its content, style or calibre. I read it without knowing anything about it and I loved it. Never before had I read a book of such style and simplicity, finding myself at first disconcerted but soon intensely moved and rapt. Without the clutter of your traditional narrative, Cormac McCarthy very effectively focuses ‘The Road’ on a handful of absorbing, provoking and affecting themes and had me, by its end, in a state of deep contemplation. He simultaneously broke and warmed my heart and although I wouldn’t add ‘The Road’ to my favourites list, I would definitely recommend it as a quick, wonderful and profound read.