By John Taylor; 2010 June 04, Azamat 17, 167 BE
The Road, A Movie Review
The Road is part of the genre known as post-apocalyptic fiction. These normally are stories of rebuilding after an unimaginably huge disaster; ultimately, they are stories of hope. Not in this case.
I first heard about "The Road" a few years ago from the environmentalist columnist George Monbiot. For him, it was a story about where we are going to end up with global warming and the destruction of nature. That may be the case, since he reviewed the novel, The Road. The movie version I just saw may have a difference of emphasis from the book. In any case, the film version of The Road in my opinion has nothing to do with environmental policy.
It is true that the apocalyptic event that starts off the forlorn adventures of this father and son does destroy all life, just like our greedy old environmental policies are doing, although this event does so far more selectively. It seems to be some kind of nuclear war that kills all insects, birds and animals, but not plants. Maybe a neutron bomb. The only ones commonly left alive are the people who happened to be sheltered inside their houses. And surely no conflict or meteor impact, not even a nuclear winter, would obliterate living beings in that selective way.
I kept thinking through the first part of the film, "This is just how a nuclear war would play out." If there were a conflict between, say, India and Pakistan, simulations have found that it would trigger a nuclear winter around the world. Once the media and government fell apart nobody would know or care how it happened, who pushed the button, or why. It would be just what you see in The Road. No explanations, just the brute struggle to survive. Except that in The Road there is not even an attempt to gossip about it. No speculation, nothing. People are totally incurious and only see others as things to fear.
The situation in The Road is a very artificial one. Only humans inside buildings survive, meaning that there is only one way to survive, by eating your fellow man. A world where nothing lives, just people, and there is nothing to eat, just people. One group, one of only three large groups encountered in the whole movie, figures out a way to survive on cannibalism a little longer than otherwise, by keeping a bunch of victims alive and locked away like chattel in a basement. Other than that, there are no groups, no community at all in The Road. The thought of doing so does not enter anybody's head, it seems.
This and a few other puzzling aspects of the movie kept me thinking for several days. For example, the first reaction of most people to the destruction of all life except a few sheltered humans is to commit suicide. Is that the best they can think of? What happened to the will to survive. Even if it is not reasonable, I would think that there would be some attempt to band together. However, all these poor souls can think of is to use what bullets remain to kill themselves. Better that than be eaten by what the boy calls "the bad guys."
My experience with this genre has been that in spite of the great doom that destroys most humans, the story is usually hopeful in the end. People do band together and find some kind of community. This happens in a way even in the Mad Max series. They may be robbers and killers, but people do come together.
Not in The Road.
Fear dominates the lives of these poor victims. They would be victims even if there had been no apocalypse. The only innocent, the only character with a sense of decency and fellow feeling in the whole world is the son, who was born after the apocalypse had taken place. In other words, the old order was corruptive poison. At one point the father says to him,
"I come from a different world from you."
It is true. At one point a black man steals their possessions from them and the father chases him down, strips the fellow naked and leaves him to die. The son objects but the father's answer is that he will die sooner or later anyway. Why not sooner rather than later? The boy, legitimately, wonders where the line lies between good guy and bad guy. Fear so dominates the thoughts of the characters that at the end of the film, the happiest ending we can expect, it turns out that a family had been following the father and son but were afraid to talk to them until after the father had died. Fear, fear, fear.
The real bleakness started long before the bomb, or whatever it was, exploded. An underlying dreariness lurked in the hearts even of the good guys.
How can that be?
Finally, this morning I understood what this film is all about. It is about what would happen if this consumer culture ever lost its god, commercialism, consumerism, Mammon. We are brainwashed so thoroughly by thousands of advertisements we hear daily that we live to buy. If ever there came a time when there was nothing to buy, we would cave. The only thing we could think of is suicide. We would have to make our future, not buy it. In that case none of us would have the slightest reason to go on with our lives.
The mother of the boy, the wife of the father is proof of this. All through the movie you think she must have died in childbirth or died of disease. But no. She simply does not want to live. She can see no reason to try to continue in these conditions. Cut off from Mammon, fear and self-immolation are the only instincts she responds to. She reluctantly gives birth to the baby, and goes on nurturing him for a while, then she just gives up. She decides to walk off and kill herself, alone, where it will not upset her son. Alone is, according to the commercialist view of human nature, where we naturally want to be.
For behind every outwardly consumerist message to indulge yourself is an even more insidious implication: be an extreme individualist. The only reason others band together with other human beings is to put you down. Do not trust groups. They just want to do what the groups ultimately end up doing in this movie, eat human flesh. The original cannibals, the real exploiters were eating our hearts and minds out long before the apocalypse. Groups are all inherently evil. Fear the other.
That subliminal message we hear from advertisements every minute of the day. Have it your way. You deserve it. Forget other people, the world exists to serve you. No wonder the last thing these survivors want to do is join together for survival. We individuals are a baby sucking at the tit of business. Take away the tit, and the baby does not even cry. It just dies. For business is no mother, it is just a big tit, feeding our minds and souls, without love. The only reaction we learn from it is fear, suicide, or to join in feeding off the flesh of other individuals.