The Road

Future with McCarthy


25 November 2009| No Comments on The Road     by Sean Chavel


As a master of playing characters with a good and evil duality, Viggo Mortensen is the only actor in the world that could have played the father in The Road. Although the father isn’t too teetering on evil, he is a good man who has disposed his better virtues because he believes it is better for his son’s and his own chances for survival. On an ash incinerated earth, a little boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) gradually exceeds the faith of his own doubting father and matures beyond his age. In a life that feels as if it is not worth living, the boy in his transcendence finds a connection between the embrace of what’s left of humankind and the dream of a better future.

The world catastrophe that has scorched the earth is undefined in both the novel by Cormac McCarthy and in the movie, but what remains is the constant panic of unavailable food and bands of cannibals and slave-herders. Something I closely observed is that two major grueling scenes in the book were left out of the movie, and if you’ve read the book you should be able to detect which are those two scenes. Such details are something I paid extra close attention to since McCarthy’s work is my favorite novel of the last ten years. It is a novel of unceasing adrenaline and urgency, a novel of simple human poetry and earth destruction poetry.

What the filmmakers can’t (and likely no filmmaker would be able to) is capture and translate an author’s idiosyncratic language, McCarthy’s symphony of words. Still, a movie can exist independently on its own terms and be successful. What John Hillcoat’s (“The Proposition”) movie has is some the best demolished and destroyed cities visuals you will find in an apocalyptic setting. Moreover, the one weakness in McCarthy’s book was the final exchange by man and wife (as seen in flashback), but Mortensen and Charlize Theron bring unexpected vitality to that scene.

Midway through the movie Robert Duvall appears as the haggard, withered Old Man. He is found on the road by father and son, who squabble over whether to divide their rations to feed this old man. First-timers to this story might find Duvall mesmerizing in his disintegrating but dignified appearance. Somehow though I find that Duvall is simply too intellectual and arch over the material – the same words in the dialogue are used in the book but Duvall is too in control of them, too “whole” of a man and not as mentally withered as he appears. If you read McCarthy, it is one of the most haunting passages you will ever read.

Often the tone and manners of the film disagreed with me. The visceral nature of the book made it feel like the most ultimate nightmare marathon of all-time. It had an endless ticking that the characters must keep moving to stay alive. This adaptation has schmaltzy exchanges and show-stopping sentiment, and the music score is too pushy in its attempt to be tear-inducing.

I say read the book first, but ultimately, everybody should acquaint themselves with this story in one form or another. There is a reason why “The Road” is published in more languages worldwide than any modern book. I was constantly curious and intrigued every moment in the way in how it was going to be “adapted,” tickled and enticed by every choice and decision the director was making. I guess that’s what happens when it is my favorite book that I’ve read twice. The ending of the book blows the mind wide open, while the movie – faithful as it is – while close to moving, falls a tad flat.


Film Cousins: “La Jetée” (1962); “The Road Warrior” (1982); “The Postman” (1997); “Children of Men” (2006).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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