The Road, a sobering film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men and All The Pretty Horses, is a national Thanksgiving holiday theatrical release, opening today. Unlike other recent doomsday movies that build toward a cataclysmic event marking the end of civilization as we know it, this motion picture focuses on the relationship between a father and son struggling to survive the dangers of a post-apocalyptic world.
The Audacity of Hope became a focal point of last year's presidential race. The Road, however, goes beyond audacity to authenticity, as its dark vision of chaos and calamity is infiltrated by a ray of hope. The world has ended, all potential and purpose seems to be destroyed and only the very faintest traces of life remain.
Yet the story that unfolds in this epic journey oozes with expectation and anticipation of two individuals with a will not merely to survive, but to live by the "good guy" code in search of something better around the next bend. Their inter-generational dynamic and dialogue that leads to an eventual role/responsibility reversal highlights the importance of family, the desire for community and the bond of love that can overcome any obstacle.
Hope, while intangible, is necessary for human existence. Without it, there is no reason to persevere, or for the next generation to carry on. In The Road, the father has a mission -- to press ahead toward their destination. He gives his son a commission -- to keep going. In a world void of morality, they choose hope over fear; but sadly, it is only a horizontal hope, based on the limitations of their "boot straps" approach.
Many people of faith believe the end of the world without God would look very similar to the bleak scenes in The Road. Their hope is vertical, based on an eternal perspective -- beyond ability, experience or provisions -- confident in the providence and protection of the Provider, which keeps them going in similarly dire situations.
Consistent with his entire body of work, Cormac McCarthy purposely leaves the literary archetypes and oblique metaphors leveraged in The Road open to a variety of interpretations. Though unapologetically secular, the studio, distributor and production companies affiliated with this project are to be commended for recognizing that parochial elements of the film would uniquely resonate with the faith community, and initiated a special outreach to this affinity community and its leadership.
Further, Director John Hillcoat and others involved in the creative process have noted it is not presumptuous for faith audiences to view this movie through a biblical filter. In fact, their only specific directive from the author was his request that the film adaptation retain as many God references from the book as possible, as they are crucial to the power of the story.
Though rated "R" for intensity, The Road represents a unique, Trojan Horse cross-over opportunity at the intersection of faith and culture. While obviously not intended to be or offered as a faith film, this significant media/cultural event will provide people of faith a catalytic opportunity to have a robust spiritual conversation with someone who would never attend church but would go to a theater with them. Whether or not they choose to see the film, they can be equipped and empowered to engage in dialogue and share the hope that is within them in these tough economic times that to many might seem relatively hopeless.
On the surface, The Road has enough drama and thrills to quench the craving of any Friday night movie buff, and is already generating Oscar "buzz." But upon further examination, this thought-provoking, inspirational -- and deeply spiritual -- film will communicate on many levels. While there are echoes of the Christian story in The Road, the power of the film is not in the answers given, but the questions asked.
The greatest impact of The Road will not be on the screen, but afterwards, over coffee, in discussions about the vital issues it raises, such as the existence of God; life and death; good vs. evil; doubt vs. belief; and fear vs. faith. These are questions that are sure to surface as movie goers flock to the film this week. For the faith community, these are questions that cannot be ignored. It is the reflective nature of these topics that make this more than merely another mainstream movie, and we will all be better for the resulting national conversation.
Larry Ross is President of A. Larry Ross Communications, a full-service agency that provides cross-over media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. With more than 30 years experience influencing public opinion, Mr. Ross' mission is to "restore faith in media," by providing Christian messages relevance and meaning in mainstream media. His clients include Dimension Films and The Road, for whom his team developed discussion-starting resources available at www.alrcnewskitchen.com/theroad.