Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Imagine a world without the warmth of the sun, where no plant life grows. The world around you is covered in soot or ash and more falls upon you instead of rain, snow, or hail. Imagine a world without jobs, supermarkets, or a centralized government in which to enforce its laws upon you…Imagine a world where once all living things thrived and bloomed with the breath of life are now all but dead and forgotten and in order to breathe you must rely on the use of gas-masks. Imagine a world scarce of clean water, plentiful food and most of all, hope…Such is the world of Cormac McCarthy’s depiction of our future: The Road.
Although it is not made clear by McCarthy in his novel as to what caused
the sun to be completely blotted-out by the many layers of ash; one can only
guess the atrocity that occurred in the time before this post-apocalyptic story
begins. A dreary desperate landscape is in
the forefront of a nameless father and son depicted in this stark Pulitzer
Prize-winning novel (2007) that the author refers to as simply, “the man” and
“the boy.” However, what is certain is
that both must persevere through many hardships and obstacles along their quest
to find solace in the distant coastal lands southward.
The means in which to push further and further along their journey certainly justifies the ends, as the prize is very much real, at least to the “man.” The “boy” is selfless in his desire to help others whereas his father is reluctant to do the likewise, due to his unflappable resolve to survive long enough to reach their ultimate destination. When seeing others in desperate need of food or water, the boy urges his father to help—only to receive a harsh reply. This in itself is the novel's central conflict and a recurring theme but not overtly so. The father argues to his son that their needs are paramount in comparison to the needs of others and that charity is not an option.
Having realized that he cannot survive another winter at their camp, the “man” decides that their only hope of survival is by heading south and finding people such as themselves who don’t share in the senseless violence or cannibalism of the masses. Every morning the father wakes up coughing up blood, yet refuses to voice to his son that he is indeed dying. Armed with only a revolver with two bullets, it provides the only assurance the two have of protecting themselves against the dangerous "others," albeit suicide if necessary.
Like many adventure stories, The Road has its share antagonists and protagonists. The protagonists are the “man” and the “boy,” who are indeed “carrying the fire” and are perhaps the key to civilization whereas the antagonists are the roving bandits and cannibals who prey on the weak and defenseless and so are desperate to take from them virtually everything. For the most part, there are far more outlaws than “fire-carriers” throughout the entirety of the story. Those who are on the move (the minority) are migratory, so in essence, those who seek the warmer climates are inherently good whereas those who choose to remain stagnant while stationed at their camps are not.
"Each the other's world entire"
Over the years, I’ve come across several stories
depicting a father and a son, but nothing quite as engrossing or unique as The Road. In comparing other stories in which the main
characters are father and son, Fathers
and Sons, a short story by Ernest Hemingway and Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl quickly come to
mind. In either story, therein lies a
strong albeit impervious bond between each; an uncompromising love shared by
both that is the impetus of each one’s resolve to prevail no matter the challenges that lie ahead. One of the exquisite qualities of McCarthy's novel is the undeniable realism depicted in the leaves of his Pulitzer Prize winning work. The novel itself speaks volumes of the Dystopian Society we are heading into if we are not careful. Much can be said about the human condition, especially when it is pushed to its very limits and is as ravenous as a starved wolf or is as loving as "the man" who'd rather kill himself than watch his son die in front of his eyes, as the two of them indeed are in the words of McCarthy, "each the other's world entire."
On Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is hailed as sharing writing styles with the likes a William Faulkner, who is one of my favorite authors of all time. Coincidentally, the two shared the same editor in Albert Erskine. One of his recent more recent novels, No Country for Old Men was adapted as a film of the same name in 2007 which won four Academy Awards including Best Picture. Another one of McCarthy's novels, All the Pretty Horses (1992), which won a National Book Award was also made into a movie. His novel, Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine's poll of 100 Best English-language books published between 1923 and 2005. If you have yet to read The Road, I highly suggest you do so before watching the movie. As a word of caution, please do not visit the Wikipedia site for The Road if you are indeed planning to do so, as it is filled with spoilers!
The Road The Motion Picture
All the while reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it was very easy for me to picture the entire novel as a motion picture (it sounds much better than movie, doesn't it?). So, with that being said, I expect this movie to be nothing less than spectacular, as it is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I'm planning to go and see the movie on opening day. Director John Hillcoat has assembled an all-star cast for his movie and here is a brief introduction to each of them:
His most notable and perhaps famous role was Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring Trilogy. When learning that Viggo Mortensen was indeed playing “the man” in the movie, The Road, I was immediately happy to hear of it, as the role is indeed serious, which suits him perfectly. In the movie, G.I. Jane, he played Master Chief John Urgayle, and in my opinion, stole the show. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in his role as Russian gangster in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and won Best Performance by an Actor from the British Independent Film Awards.
Australian-born actor Kodi Smit-McPhee is following in the footsteps of his father Andy McPhee and is on the fast-track to Hollywood stardom after having won the American Film Institute's Best Young Actor Award in his role in the film, Romulus, My Father (2007) alongside actor Eric Bana. He also appeared in the Australian telemovie, The King and the American television series Monarch Cove and Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King in an episode titled Umney's Last Case. Kodi plays the role of "the boy" in the movie.
One of Hollywood's best actors, Robert Duvall plays the "old man" in The Road. Having been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1971 in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece, The Godfather in his role as Tom Hagan and again in 1979 in another Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, Apocalypse Now as the unsound Lieutenant Bill Kilgore. But of his many awards, his winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Mac Sledge in the movie Tender Mercies (1983) tops the list.
Being that he is in two of some of my favorite movies of all time: L.A. Confidential (1997) and Memento (2000), finding out that he'll be playing in the movie could quite make him a three-time personal favorite actor on mine if all goes well. If you haven't yet seen these two Guy Pearce movies, I highly recommend them, as they are ground-breaking in terms of movie making (most notably Memento). I'm not exactly sure what role he will in fact play in the movie, The Road, but I do have a hunch as to what it'll be (and so don't want to spoil it). But whichever role he does play, I'm sure that he'll do a great job in doing so.
As one of my favorite actresses, she is one of the few actresses in my opinion, that can really light up the screen and not to mention act, winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in her portrayal as Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer in the movie Monster (2003) thus making her the first (South) African to do so. Her brave role as Josey Aimes in North Country (2005) also garnered her many other nominations, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for an Actress in a Leading Role. Although not much of her role as "the wife" in McCarthy's novel was made at the least bit lengthy, her character's role in Hillcoat's movie will be however.
Scenes from "The Road"
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