Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A New Holiday Classic?

A review of The Road

Before seeing The Road, I thought it was a bonehead idea to release a movie about post-apocalyptic hell on earth, based on one of the grimmest novels of the past two decades, during the holiday season. And much of the film didn't convince me otherwise. It reminded me a lot of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird: an innocent boy's journey through a gauntlet of atrocities and indignities. It is bleak.

But - without giving any spoilers - I will say that The Road's denouement and message transform it into a powerfully inspirational allegory for life itself. When devastation hits, there are three kinds of people: those who give up early, those who persist and "keep the fire" of humanity going, and those of low character who do anything to survive. The Man (Viggo Mortenson) and his Boy are "keeping the fire". They have eschewed theft, cannibalism, and suicide. They have refused to join any of the LRA-like gangs that dominate the wasted landscape. They foster hope, however dim, that something better waits for them farther along the road.

Those who keep the fire face the greatest obstacles, the most dangers, and the worst fears. The temptation to revert to brutality is strong. Food is scarce in the extreme. Trust and companionship are out the question, as The Man sees it, because anyone could be a predator. Of all the things he lost when the world ended, I'd say his trust in other people - his faith that there are other "good people" like himself somewhere in the world - was the second-most precious.

The day-to-day struggle for survival against these soul-crunching odds seems barely worth it, but the Boy discovers that the fire won't die unless you quench it.

So in the final analysis, this might be a great holiday film. Aside from the total lack of snow and any kind of non-human life, it meets the criteria for a Christmas classic:

- It encourages faith in humanity's strength, faith in unfailing love, and faith in our ability to cherish and preserve what is most precious.
- It might make you cry.
- It isn't wildly original, but the story unfolds in a simple and direct way that can reach just about anyone (definitely not for kids, though).
- It makes you feel grateful for your life, or a little ashamed of taking your blessings for granted. After viewing this movie, you feel very fortunate indeed and you want to spread some of your blessings around.
- It reminds us to nurture and protect the finest things we have: our spirits, the natural world (the disaster that destroyed the whole planet isn't specified, but it could certainly be the result of widescale nuclear war or environmental devastation), and each other.
- It contains the world's most valuable commodity: hope for a better future.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for a great review. I have been quite curious how this film is being received, although I certainly didn't expect it to be seen as a Christmas film. But why not? I think of Eastern Promises as a Christmas film, so.

Wandering Coyote said...

I am dying to see this but the release has been so limited that it's not playing anywhere around where I live! It's so annoying living in the boonies!