In the Picture
Directed by John Hillcoat
The book on which this film is based disturbed the hell out of me. I read it in one afternoon and was left horrified and deeply moved. Written by Cormac McCarthy (author of No Country for Old Men), it won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for good reason. Despite quite simplistic and sparse language, it is equal parts brilliant, haunting, shocking and sad. The limited dialogue and background force you to focus solely on the relationship between a father and son as they make their way across post-apocalyptic America following an unknown catastrophe that leaves the world a bleak, lifeless and inhospitable place.
The lack of food has meant some people have turned to cannibalism, a scenario that provides some of the most ugly and frightening scenes in the book. The decay of humanity is the main topic of conversation the father and son discuss as they struggle to survive in this hopeless landscape. The father is determined not to lose sight of who he once was before the whole world turned to ash yet the boy, born into this morally-ravaged world, is often the one who provides the voice of compassion.
Like the book, the film adaptation of The Road is bleak and harrowing. Australian director John Hillcoat (Ghosts… of the Civil Dead and The Proposition) captures well the barren landscape, the deserted cities, the harsh reality of living in a world where nothing grows and almost anything useful has already been consumed. A world where you could be eaten or worse if you’re captured.
Viggo Mortensen is captivating as the father whose sole purpose is to keep his son alive while Kodi Smit-McPhee is equally convincing as the young boy whose silent strength and natural human decency is a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world.
Through flashbacks we learn that the boy’s mother committed suicide, the world transformed into such a cesspit of human depravity by the catastrophe she has no will to endure it.
But herein lies the beauty of the film – the simple love between two people being enough to sustain them, enough to stop them from committing suicide, enough to keep them struggling for life even when that life is one hardly worth living. It is a powerful meditation on hope, morality and how to preserve humanity when all else is gone.
While I thought this film was a triumph and the performances by Mortensen and Smit-McPhee beautiful, tender and raw, it was slightly sanitised (the most horrific scene from the book is completely omitted) and I’m not sure it quite captured the ending.
This is an excellent film and definitely worth seeing, but please, read The Road first, and then you’ll truly understand why.