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Movie Review

The Road a.k.a. “A Estrada,” “Tie,” “La route,” “O dromos,” “Дорога”

MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

Reviewed by: Ethan Samuel Rodgers

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller, Drama, Adaptation
1 hr. 51 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 25, 2009 (wide)
DVD: May 25, 2010
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Featuring: Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael Kenneth Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Bob Jennings, Agnes Herrmann, Buddy Sosthand, Kirk Brown, Jack Erdie, David August Lindauer, Gina Preciado, Mary Rawson, Mark Tierno
Director: John Hillcoat
Producer: Dimension Films, 2929 Productions, Nick Wechsler Productions, Chockstone Pictures, Road Rebel, Marc Butan, Mark Cuban, Erik Hodge, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Rudd Simmons, Todd Wagner, Nick Wechsler
Distributor: Dimension Films, The Weinstein Company

“In a moment the world changed forever.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men

It’s the Christmas season: Carolers are patrolling neighborhoods, parents are battling unruly crowds at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and children are finding it difficult to sleep at night, thinking only about what they’ll find under the Christmas tree. With all the commercialism and tradition in the air, movies that come out during this time of year (or that are played on a 24 hour loop on some basic cable channels) tend to be uplifting and joyous, and also serve a general message of togetherness and brotherly love tied neatly with a red bow of happiness. All of these factors have surely played a part in the latest adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, The Road, flying under the radar over the past month. Although fraught with all the opposite feelings that are generally associated with the Christmas season, make no mistake, “The Road” is one of the holidays most moving and outstanding films.

What has taken place on our Earth is unknown. Certainly it happened some time ago, but whatever event shapes the premise of “The Road” is not explained or delved into, suffice it to say that the Earth is dead: all creatures, plants and life, excluding humans, have died. The Earth is plagued by fire and earthquakes, and is sputtering out her last breath. The year is unknown, as time is of no concern to those who have survived.

A Man (Viggo Mortensen) has only his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for companionship on this barren Earth. The mother (Charlize Theron) is dead, and their only hope of surviving another cold winter is to head south for the coast. Along their way, lie bands of gangs searching for food who have resorted to cannibalism to survive, along with the dangers of the dying Earth that may prevent them from reaching their destination, and hope.

“The Road” is as real an “apocalypse film” as you will ever see. From a Christian standpoint, one can obviously look at the tale as fiction, but the character and social study that takes place throughout is simply astonishing. Themes that encompass the loss of faith in humanity and human nature itself are prevalent, along with the central theme that man, at his core, without true faith in something more than himself (God), is nothing more than an intelligent animal. Stripped bare, he is violent and savage. These are also masterfully coupled with the study of good amidst pure evil: hope, integrity and differentiating between good and evil are also prevalent and a main focal point in the story, and are found mainly in the person of the boy, who is innocent and still naïve, but aware of the evils of the world. This helped make every dialogue, every exchange and every encounter real, and, in a sense, a true look at what man really is by contrasting Mortensen’s cynic view of reality that had been shaped over years of hopelessness and watching the evil of man sharply countered with the young boy’s view of reality, whose hope is to find the good inside of all people that may still exist, even in this world.

The way McCarthy tells the story is intense, to say the least. It’s likely that you’ll grip your chair in fear in nearly every scene, praying for the safety of the two travelers. McCarthy and Director John Hillcoat find ways to let your mind wander in horror over what men are willing to do to each other and, throughout the course of the film, convince you more and more that were something like this to happen, this would most likely be the end result of our sin nature. As you watch the film, pay attention to your feelings toward other characters; you become more wary and less trusting of human nature after only an hour and a half in McCarthy’s world, a true measure of great story telling.

The film is rated R for language, violence and disturbing images. Language was fairly similar to “No Country for Old Men.” Sprinkled throughout are a couple f-words, a S#@! and a couple GD’s, but this certainly was not the reason for the R Rating. The ultimate reason behind this was the theme of suicide and more so, cannibalism, which was quite prevalent in the film, as well as the idea behind it and the suggestion of it.

The force with which some scenes grab you is engrossing. Humans in this world literally have become either hunters or cattle, and those who are cattle are savagely hunted down and murdered for the survival of the strong and corrupt. It is truly a disconcerting spectacle to see humans treated in this manner, but it is meant to drive the point home that there is no grey area in who we are: men are either essentially good or essentially evil. When the pleasures and security of our society are taken away, men are one or the other. This struck me as particularly powerful to us as Christians. There is no “lukewarm,” there is hot, and there is cold. In McCarthy’s world, the line is defined purely and simply.

No one in the film is given a name, which I found curious, but believe it has much to do with the themes of the film. I thought that perhaps this firmly established that a name does not make a person and is not required for you to connect with them as something “real.” Our actions and what we do say and define who we are, not our names. I also believed this was done to further cement that in this post-apocalyptic world names are pointless, as men are animals. Cattle have no names, they’re meat. Why name them? In one scene, a man asks Mortensen if he is a doctor, to which he responds “I’m not anything.” Truly this is a theme of the film, as well.

The cinematography and direction of the film paired excellently with the tone and feel of the book and setting, as well. Grey, endless, almost hopeless landscapes with beautiful composition and muted colors continue frame after frame, broken only by the occasional bright contrasting flashbacks, truly emphasizing the argument that in many situations, one must fight against even one’s surroundings to keep hope. I found every moment of the film to be engaging, despite the small amount of dialogue, as Director John Hillcoat weaves a tale that could only be sullied by more words.

By now, I’m certain that the Christmas movie block-busters will blow “The Road” out of theaters and out of the minds of most audience members, but the Oscars will surely be where we see this film’s reemergence. Cormac McCarthy’s ability to delve into the human psyche and examine who we are and what we think is astonishing. He also is a master of letting your mind wander and create your own mental images of the sick and twisted things that he portrays man being capable of. Supported by outstanding on-screen chemistry and what may be two of the best, if not the best, performances I have witnessed on screen this year from Mortensen and Smit-McPhee that will inspire and move many to heart wrenching, uncontrollable tears, “The Road” is as far from a Christmas film as there may be this holiday season, but one of the best I’ve seen this year. Though deeply disturbing and shockingly realistic, “The Road” is a real look at man and what hope truly is. For those that can stomach the ride and stand the intensity, I recommend you pass up Sherlock and Watson, prepare for an eye-opening look into human and, more importantly, sin nature.

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—The movie follows the book closely and that is a positive because it is a wonderful novel. To be clear with everyone this film deals with suicide, human depravity and a host of moral questions from beginning to end. However, it is essentially a story about the relationship between a father and son. A father willing to do anything for his son even when there seems to be no hope and the things that a child is able to teach his father due to his innocence and willingness to hope and look for the best in people. The film like the book is bleak and depressing, but it is worth your time.

Beyond the wonderful father/son relationship it is also particularly interesting that in the face of a disaster of Biblical proportions the actions one takes have ramifications that we cannot foresee, which means that each action whether it be good or sinful is magnified greatly. This is very true in a brilliant seen where the father and son encounter a thief.

The novel and the film are so focused upon the relationships of the characters that the audience never finds out what the disaster is because it essentially is not important to the story they are trying to tell. I will warn you that it is violent and at times frightening, but the moral questions and issues that are addressed are important and relevant to christians and all people.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—John, age 29 (USA)
Positive—As Christians, sometimes we walk a hard line between the fact that we are told to think on what is pure, lovely, of good report, etc. And the fact that even the Bible itself sometimes presents a stark and realistic view of life: the depths of human depravity and the hope inside of each of us. This is one of those films that you will either love or hate. If you are of a literary bent, and can look beyond the surface of this film to its deeper meanings, then you’ll love it. (And will probably want to read the book, which you should.) If you want to be entertained, don’t even bother.

***SPOILER ALERT*** This movie is stunning (as was the book) in its complete and almost majestic desolation: a post-nuclear-holocaust, a burned-over world of gray ash and soft asphalt, where glass drips down the sides of buildings, where the nights are black as pitch and the days are quickly growing colder, shorter and darker. In the midst of this is the Man and his Son, traveling a nameless Road south, constantly searching for food and hiding to avoid cannibals. The man knows he is slowly dying, and, while trying to teach his son the skills the boy will need to survive on his own, faces an intense moral dilemma. His son is everything to him. Should he end his son’s life to avoid the child being captured or killed by cannibals? In the end, he cannot. He can only trust that “goodness” will find and care for his son. (Which it does.)

There are so many motifs and themes here there is not space to go into them all: nature as God’s revelation (and what happens when that revelation is all-but destroyed), the fact that sometimes humans can destroy things that they can never put right again (like Eden), and, perhaps strongest, the work of parenting. Like the Man, we also will not be here forever and we must take seriously the job of preparing our children to go on without us into an unknown future. This is not a “Christian” movie/book per se, although God is mentioned at various points. At one point a crazed elderly man, sight-impaired in the best tradition of seers, announces “There is no God, and we are his prophets.”

The Man and Boy are presented as carrying a light or fire inside of them, but it is not distinctly Christian in nature. If anything, the boy is presented (at least I feel) as an innocent more after the thinking of Rousseau than as a child with the Biblical concept of original sin.

That being said, the boy has a naturally tender, generous spirit, forever wanting to help the battered, shambling humans they meet on the Road. The child prays at times, and the father recognizes something in the boy that is out of the ordinary. If you are a deep thinker, with a love of literature, you may can look upon this movie as a modern parable and really draw some richness out of its desolation. I think that it would even be appropriate for older teenagers (17 or 18), in the context of discussing the grim reality of life, the depths of human depravity, the effects of the choices we make, the burden of parenting, the anchor of hope, etc.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Shanna, age 40 (USA)
Neutral—My husband did not like this film at all. He thought it had no point and was depressing. I would call it a slice of life film. You are watching the lives of the father and son and their journey. I found it stressful to watch.

It was a powerful film, and it had me thinking of the tribulation and what this world will be like and when will the Lord come back and what will my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren have to live through. It was a film that was plausible, unlike The Book of Eli which still had a Hollywood movie feel to it even though it too was post apocalyptic. It was disturbing to think what would I do if it was me, what if I had 2 bullets but 3 kids, what if it was just me and a daughter, what if my husband—who I would look to for protection—was gone etc.

It was scary because it really did have a feel of this could happen. I felt so… spoiled while I watched it. We have so much we take for granted and I think of buying more junk for the kids birthdays coming up and yet trying to throw some toys away to make room. For what? More stuff we don’t need… it opens your eyes.

There is male nudity from the back side. It’s not sexual, it’s the dad swimming. There is violence and disturbing scenes in reference to the cannibalism. It’s not a feel good movie, there is no happy ending, there is no relief at the end. It is not for the young or the squeamish or those who want a Hollywood ending. I honestly don’t know who it is for, who might like it, but in the end, it was a powerful film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Andrea, age 37 (USA)
Negative—As a Christian with roots in the KJV/Amplified versions of the Scriptures, I found myself wondering why I was sitting through this, but compelled to finish the task. The film is literally dark and hard to hear the words, i.e., a lot of mumbling, OK, my hearing is not what it used to be.

I have not read the book, but am familiar with “No Country for Old Men.” The author’s earlier success with “No Country…” was my only indicator as to why I would want to see this. It is boring, depressing, and other than emphasizing “looking for the good guys” by son and dad (who in America other than those with foreign roots call their dad “poppa,” a constant reminder of a sophisticated conceit), where are any redeeming values? The film struggles to make the human race likeable in any way.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—J. Crook, age 64 (USA)
Negative—I have to say, this is a sad, depression movie that is without hope or redemption. The violence is pretty typical for a rated R movie, but the language was way over the top, as was the pure darkness of the film. I would not recommend this movie for anyone, adults or children.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Jacob Airey, age 21 (USA)
Movie Critics
…the filmmakers capture enough of the book’s essence—and the power of its knockout, transcendent ending—to more than justify the movie’s existence. … Like McCarthy’s book, The Road is dark, bleak and nightmarish but also stirring and beautiful and optimistic: As long as life remains, the movie argues, there is always hope. … [3/4]
—Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
…the film’s final scenes are its most moving and fascinating…
—Chris Knight, National Post
…astounding performances… While the film is not as resonant as the novel, it is an honorable adaptation, capturing the essence of the bond between father and son. …
—Claudia Puig, USA Today
…The artistic and technical merits are superb… but it’s a gloomy excursion. …
—Phil Boatright, Preview Family Movie and TV Review