Making The Road has been a unique and incredible experience for me. The film opens on Wednesday and so I have been reading some advanced reviews despite myself. I'm both relieved and pleased to read Mr. Reed's beautiful words and the many other critics struck by the movie's emotion and brave ambition and success in translating such a loaded landmark of contemporary literature. I have personally been most pleased by both Cormac McCarthy and the fans of the book's reaction. However, I've seen a few reviews that see the film purely as dark or bleak which I found somewhat perplexing. I know that everyone involved in the making of the film and Cormac, himself, who dedicated the book to his son, set out to tell a life-affirming and strangely uplifting story. In fact McCarthy describes the book being at its core about human goodness, human kindness. I think that this positive message is obviously why this book has become one of the most translated of the modern era and why Oprah picked The Road for her prestigious book club. It is a great adventure between a father and a son, where they are tested and their love drives them forward. It is primarily a celebration of family and mankind, made all the more special when pitted against such odds.
Luck is such a big part of life and of moviemaking. To have the manuscript of Cormac McCarthy's The Road fall into my lap before it was published was a case in point. I had no idea that the book would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize and become so influential and popular. It so profoundly moved me that I knew back then it was a great gift carrying a huge responsibility. My last movie, The Proposition was actually inspired by McCarthy's Blood Meridian. But with The Road Cormac surpassed even my expectations. It is the most poignant love story between a father and son that I know of, so I wanted, above all, to respect the book and his work, to be authentic and not 'Hollywoodize' it, to use great restraint and focus upon its core qualities.
The Road is also about civilization's slow death where disaster is made to feel physically and spiritually real -- it's literally apocalypse now. I feel that Cormac's immense talent lies not only in his poetic language but also in his insightful and unflinching view of humanity when stripped bare, of how people behave under extreme pressure revealing the worst and best in humanity with the precision of a scientist -- grace under pressure via great characters, great dialogue and great story telling. Above all, this is why I'm personally so attracted to his work as a filmmaker. To me the book felt uncomfortably familiar and uncomfortably real which is why we pursued a naked realism -- we thought that was in the spirit of the novel.
The film can be viewed as a more mythic metaphoric journey of the soul -- a fable, an adult fairytale about the passing of one generation to another -- that inescapable reality of mortality and the archetypal parent's greatest fear, guilt and heartbreak in leaving the child behind and by extension everyone's fear of being left behind utterly alone. On another level is the morality tale, an urgent wake-up call to us all where kindness, trust, hope and faith must prevail against all odds in the face of debased human behavior amongst impending destruction and horror. As we all bear witness to a new age of violent global conflict, together with the specter of apocalyptic environmental catastrophe, The Road manages to tap into our collective psyche as a universal nightmare. It evokes our deepest and darkest fears -- and with prescience and lucidity looks at what matters most -- family, kindness, and love.
Cormac McCarthy has spoken about how people have connected with the novel saying, "I have the same letter from about six different people. One from Australia, one from Germany, one from England, but they all said the same thing. They said, 'I started reading your book after dinner and I finished it 3:45 the next morning, and I got up and went upstairs and I got my kids up and I just sat there in the bed and held them.'" Viggo Mortensen and I also have boys and I think this strong emotional response in a family that the book evokes is what drew us to this project. In fact, it is in the humanity of The Boy in this story where the most uplifting message lies. The Boy has been born into a world where morals and ethics are at their lowest point ever, but he remains the most moral character which is a testament to mankind's more extraordinary innate values. He even becomes the teacher by handing back to The Man his own humanity.
The specific reviews that just focus on the film bleakness seem to have missed the point. In fact, the film is quite the opposite. Yes, there are dark and horrifying moments in the film, just like there are tough times in everyone's life. However, what McCarthy's novel and this film display is that it is what you do under real pressure in those hard times -- when your world is turned upside down, when everything is taken from you -- that makes you the person that you really are. Some people choose to live selfishly and their morals slide down to the base levels of humanity, while others choose to do the opposite. In this case, the Man and the Boy, choose to "carry the fire" -- to forge onward with the same moral code and values that they would uphold in the most comfortable of times. Their love for each other and for fellow mankind is what keeps them alive and hence our future burning bright.
The Road is the kind of film that challenges, excites, thrills, and gets your blood racing. They're the kind of movies I love. I hope that you will experience the film so you can be moved by this more significant and ultimately beautiful message at the heart of the journey in much the same way that the millions of readers of Cormac McCarthy's beloved book have been, myself included.