The Road (2009)

the road

“You have to keep carrying the fire.”

The Scoop: 2009 R, directed by John Hillcoat and starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Charlize Theron

Tagline: In a moment the world changed forever.

Summary Capsule: Father and son go on a desperate journey to reach the coast following the aftermath of the apocalypse

Justin’s rating: Stay in the bunker you idiots!  Staaaaaay!

Justin’s review: It’s tempting to call foul on The Road – after all, the apocalypse is supposed to be fun.

“Say what?” you sputter onto your monitor, flecks of Pringles coating your screen.

Well, frankly, it is.  At least, the fictional apocalypse.  The reason why so many people dig the genre, myself included, isn’t that we really want the world to end or that our souls are so black that only the concept of the apocalypse can paint it an even darker shade.  The reason why we dig it is because apocalyptic fiction is all about a personal fantasy that asks, “What would I do in this situation?  I’d be an awesome survivor, that’s what!”  We like seeing the end of the world in fiction because the altered world is oddly compelling, opening up a mental door where we envision ourselves traversing this new frontier and making do in a radically changed setting.

But the thing is, usually the apocalypse has something going for it to make it interesting.  Like, a plague kills off most everyone, but it leaves tons of resources for the survivors and they treat the world like their playground.  Or nuclear war wipes out cities, but it creates awesome mutants and Thunderdome for entertainment.

When it comes to The Road, there’s simply nothing fun about it – not the concept nor the film-slash-book, which I love quite a bit.  I’m not normally the Oprah Book Club type, but I’m glad I picked up Cormac McCarthy’s novel, as I’ve devoured it three times already.  It’s actually a pretty simplistic story at the core: years following an unspecified apocalypse (he hints toward nuclear war), a father and son travel south in search of something, anything to help them survive.

Like the book, the movie is a shell of sadness, despair and depression, in which is nestled a warm, bright seed of love.  The world around them is absolutely desolate; nothing grows, the sky is constantly cloudy and grey, and everything is broken, shattered and used up.  What’s worse is that the remnants of humanity have degenerated into two groups, cannibals and prey, and it looks as though the end is coming for all no matter what they do.

And yet there’s a dad and there’s a son, and they absolutely love each other.  That love is the only thing that keeps the father going after his wife abandons herself to the night.  Viggo Mortesen, haggard and worn, uses his brains, his guts and his steel will to keep them heading south.

As I said, it’s not a fun movie, but it is an interesting movie, because it somehow feels more real than any other apocalyptic film out there.  Nothing’s glamorizing this landscape – people wrap themselves in plastic and scraps of clothing, hunting through barns for any leftover seed to eat, and civilization is such a distant memory that the ten-year-old kid never knew a life before the fall.

I won’t be the one to jump on your couch yelling “WOOO!  YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!” because chances are it’s going to depress the crap out of you.  But it asks an even better question when it comes to apocalyptic fantasy, and that’s “What would you do for your loved ones if the end of the world came?”  Hopefully, I’d be every inch as great as this dad in that situation.


  • Charlize Theron only appears in dreams and flashbacks
  • Nobody in the film is credited with a name

Groovy Quotes

The Boy: How many people do you think are still alive?
The Man: In the world? Not very many.

The Man: You have to keep carrying the fire.
The Boy: What fire?
The Man: The fire inside you.

The Man: The clocks stopped at one seventeen one morning. There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. I think it’s October but I can’t be sure. I haven’t kept a calendar for five years. Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker – beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the world slowly dies. No animals have survived. All the crops are long gone. Someday all the trees in the world will have fallen. The roads are peopled by refugees towing carts and road gangs looking for fuel and food. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food. Always food. Food and our shoes. Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice – difficult as they are to remember. All I know is the child is my warrant and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.

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  1. Definitely one of the most depressing movies out there, but one of the best I have watched in a while.

    It is probably the most realistic view of what would actually happen after an apocalypse. It’s hard to display things like inner strength and willpower in movies, but here it was easy. You just had to put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself how long you would have endured until you put the gun on yourself. What’s actually the use of living in a world so bereft of joy? And that’s where the boy comes in. Viggo’s performance is just beautiful, and definitely his best.

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