Industrial cannibalism. Roving marauders. A world devoid of civilisation. Sounds far-fetched? Not according to John Hillcoat’s 2012 film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic classic, The Road. After an unnamed disaster befalls the world, a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are left to defend against the remnants of humanity and contend with the worst of its depravity. They fight off cannibals and marauders as they make their way south to warmer climes, and, hopefully, a brighter future. The Road, although falling in the apocalyptic genre, does well to shy away from the excessive explosions and gunfights, common to the likes of a Michael Bay film, allowing more light to shine on McCarthy’s masterful use of dialogue. However, the misuse of this dialogue has caused the film to feel more fast paced in certain scenes. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe has done particularly well, by sticking strictly to the source material he has brought McCarthy’s haunting descriptions to life, creating a visual masterpiece in itself. While John Hillcoat’s respectable adaptation of The Road truthfully captures the crucial and enduring themes of hope, survival, and the paternal bond, the nature of the transition to film, coupled with stylistic changes, have caused a loss of tension and the crucial connection between the audience and protagonist that force it to depart from Cormac McCarthy’s original intent.
Cormac McCarthy, one of the forefathers of the apocalyptic genre, lead the charge against the classic tropes of traditional heroism, investing in a more ruggedly realistic protagonist. Hillcoat has done well to follow suit with his adaptation.
The film’s transition, as well as certain esthetical changes, has caused departure from the intent in more than one way. The crucial and integral theme of hope for McCarthy is central to his concept of a determined and abiding humanity, represented by a symbolic ‘fire’, carried by the two protagonists.
However, Hillcoat’s hope has become one-dimensional and idealistic, shying away from the more confronting and disturbing scenes that characterise McCarthy’s unique and challenging perspective. By far the most deeply arresting scene of the novel was when the two travellers come upon an abandoned camp, tragically finding a newborn child roasted atop the fire, about to be eaten by the child’s mother and her gang: an unspeakable and shocking scenario, representative of the pure emotional strain McCarthy was able to capture.
Penhall remains faithful to McCarthy’s haunting descriptions.
Despite this, the man and boy are still able to summon a last vestige of hope; it endures despite the horrific challenges it overcomes. Hillcoat, however, omits this and other similarly confronting scenes, arguably for the sake of audience comfort and Hollywood palatability. By taking this confrontation and emotional obstacle out of the film, Hillcoat prevents the characters from ever truly proving...