Saturday, July 31, 2010
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron
Director: John Hillcoat
Runtime: 112 min.
Verdict: Your standard issue post apocalyptic drama.
Behind all that tragedy, all that world where the civilization comes crumbling down, all that uber-darkness, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is still a little morality story we heard from parents and teachers and uncles when we were kids. I now look back at them, many of them, like for instance that woodcutter and his axe, and I realize that the essential structure is nothing more than a simple formula – ratchet up the odds and the miseries, and then prove the strength of the morality, and sneak into our minds the resilience expected out of us. I have no problems, like whatsoever, but isn’t there something odd when cannibalism and eating children and rape and suicide and blah and blah are invoked, you know, just to drive home a point? Where exactly does it stop becoming a constructive exercise, and when does it start entering the realms of the immoral? A blatant exercise in manipulation? I mean, I do acknowledge that darkness is an important part of humanity, but then its importance is best served when we realize that we are rooting for Hannibal Lecter, not when we’re shouting and blaming the Nazis in Schindler’s List. "They" is easy. "I" is tough. And I guess, "I" is art. I wouldn’t want to be too snarky here, but one of the reasons Christopher Nolan is so rare is that his characters are all about questioning themselves, and invariably are the negative people within their worlds. And that is a most honorable trait in an artist.
The Road, much like its source, is relentless alright. There are wide expansive shots of the desolation around. Obligatory shots. Every post-apocalyptic world uses them in abundance. Studios ought to keep a stock of them to save down on costs in the future. The Man (Mr. Mortensen) and his boy (Mr. McPhee) wade through it, day and night. It all feels cyclical, and one might even feel that The Road intends for us to feel the difficulty of every step they make. Noble intentions, I say. A tragedy as this ought to be relentless. It should be horrific. It should test us, test our spirits, and do its all to submit us into resignation. If this is a film about that fire that burns within us, that fire of humanity the film speaks of, then it ought to be put to the sword. This is a huge subject, a huge test, and I believe the film doesn’t have any idea whatsoever the enormity of what it is talking. All it has is an idea, and it is packaging it in shorthand.
I often imagine post apocalypse as one big void. A void of space, and a void in time. Nowhere to go, or maybe everywhere to go. The thing is, such a world wouldn’t have an edit. A jump in time, here, is a mistake. Oh, I absolutely agree with the commercial aspects of it, but I also absolutely detest the moral aspects of it. You see, I am not sure if simply telling us about a father and a son lost in this infinite wilderness, where any direction could spiral downwards, without any real endeavor to make us feel what they are going through, is entirely right. Watching The Road, I felt myself equipped with a bourgeois gaze, watching the two poor souls slogging through their lives, there, outside of the window, and I filling gradually but surely with pity. If I wanted to feel good about myself and shed a few tears, the film obliged me with a solemn background score. And that entire exercise filled me with disgust. Imagine yourself sitting in a packed auditorium. Imagine a film showing the misery of two people. Imagine the audience pitying the two people, and even crying. Imagine you walking out. Imagine the remarkable awfulness of this little situation. I don’t think it is too far from gladiatorial games, where they say (or as Gladiator said) folks were killed? Imagine it all playing to a sad music.
And let me tell you, dear reader, there’s a reason why The Road flopped. I’m not sure we want empty exercises in celebrating-humanity-triumph-against-all-odds. I might’ve raised questions that might seem absurd in the commercial world of filmmaking, but movies work on experiences. The Road, for all its misery, has a certain neatness to it that renders it a completely bland experience. There’s not much by way of imagination when it comes to the evil we’re capable of, and instead it resorts to clichéd depictions of Oh! The horror. Every hour of everyday in the world depicted is a test. Little food. Cold. Rains. The same companion. A film just cannot shorthand through such situations, through little scenes showing the misery, and then cutting to the next scene. These moments ought to be prolonged so much so that they feel present. When Mr. Gibson made us feel every lash of every whip in The Passion of the Christ, I greatly admired the devout passion behind his relentlessness. He wasn’t shortchanging violence, and I’m not sure if he really scored any middlebrow points. Whether that was truth, it is open for debate, but I guess somebody took the pains to unsettle the audience and make them feel, even for a moment, what the stakes really are. I greatly admire Mr. Noe’s bare audacity of the rape sequence in Irreversible. That, right there, if not anything else, is effective filmmaking.
Mr. Hillcoat, who’s The Proposition I greatly admire, ought to know that a drama set in a post-apocalyptic world does not, under any circumstance, warrant a background score. More so not a film like this one here, whose very calling card is a desolate world. A background score always fills the gap within your mind. It is meant to provide closure, sort the deal out with your emotions. A standard score is a cue to a standard feel. A solemn piano is a cue to string your heart. The Man’s memories are filled with images of his wife (Ms. Theron) playing the piano. I wonder if that is the music The Man would feel in his heart and mind in that barren world? Isn’t The Road, behind all its destruction, really about a goddamned cliché?
Posted by Satish Naidu at 10:32 AM