The post-apocalyptic American landscape in THE ROAD is cold, barren, and inhospitable to life. For survivors such as the unnamed father and son played by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, scavenging for canned goods is their means of maintaining strength during the long journey on foot to the warmer climate and fertile land rumored in the south.
Others have turned to cannibalism, which makes any encounter with strangers fraught with danger. The man and boy try to avoid anyone and everyone lest they cross the wrong company. They promise to kill themselves rather than be taken by these savages.
Adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel, THE ROAD is a haunting portrait of what it means to be a parent. Clearly the stakes are exaggerated and raised in this nightmarish scenario, but the underlying sentiment holds true. Keeping one's child safe in a world full of harm can be the most terrifying endeavor for any adult.
Mortensen plays the father with a fierce protectiveness that borders on the feral, yet the performance is riven with doubt and despair, not only at what he fears may come but as he remembers what transpired with the boy's mother (Charlize Theron). Mortensen acts not like a hero but as an ordinary man determined to guard his son even if he does not feel fully capable of the task. Surely any parent can relate.
THE ROAD is also a study of how it's easy to conduct a good, upright life during times of prosperity and happiness and less so when everything goes to hell. Yet the kicker is that it's at times of devastation when behaving with moral conviction may be most important.
THE ROAD is a bleak film visually and emotionally. The ashy gloom pervading the air on screen chokes the viewer's lungs, and the cold the characters dwell in chills one's bones. Director John Hillcoat evokes a hostile atmosphere whose stern, gray beauty makes common kindness stand out in sharp relief. What else can one wish to find when the worst is upon us?