So I Just Saw The Road

So after a very full day of doing productive things, like studying and shopping for groceries and stalking that flash fiction contest that we entered, Rachael and I decided that this would be a good evening to do something fun without going out, what with it being the first home game of the season (also, we won; Go Dawgs!).

Naturally, that means it was time for us to peruse our movie queue on Netflix and see what we should see.

Fortunately, it’s the start of a new month, which means that Netflix just put a bunch of new stuff up, including the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

If you have not read this book, then you should.  If you’d rather see the movie, then you’ll get most of the same substance, but with a little less panache than what McCarthy’s novel offers.

See, The Road is an apocalyptic story (my favorite kind) about a man and his son who are trying to survive in the wasteland that was America about ten years after an undescribed catastrophic event which has killed all the trees and most of the wildlife, leaving everything cold, gray, and covered in a fine layer of ash.  The man’s son was born after the event, so he has no recollection of the world as it was.  The man’s wife disappeared at some undisclosed time prior to the beginning of the story, wandering out into the wilderness to die alone.  At this late point in the apocalypse, resources have become extremely scarce, and many survivors have turned to cannibalism as a source of food.

Cover of "The Road"

Cover of The Road

This is not a cheerful story.

The central tension of the story revolves around the man trying to teach his son how to survive without betraying his sense of morality; the son sums it up by asking repeatedly, “Are we still the good guys?”  It’s a good question, since in the course of the story, the man kills two other men, nearly leaves an old, nearly blind man to starve to death, and forces one last guy who has just robbed them to strip naked before he leaves him on the side of the road.

In the case of the men who are killed, they both present imminent threats to the man and his son, while in the case of the men who are left to die slowly, there is no such threat.  At these points, the boy pleads with his father to show mercy because they are “the good guys.”  Begrudgingly, the man agrees in both cases.  While the nearly blind man, Eli (the only character with a name), doesn’t pose any real threat and is easier for the man to help, the decision to return the thief’s clothes to him with a little bit of food is much more difficult (the man brings the thief’s things back to the spot where they left him, but he is nowhere to be seen, so we’re left to wonder about his fate).

Though each case is agonizing for the man, his son’s insistence that they help others in spite of their own privation shows that the lessons the man’s been teaching are taking hold.

Eventually the man succumbs to illness and dies, leaving the boy alone to fend for himself.  It’s not long until the boy’s approached by another man who invites him to join his family.  The story closes with the boy meeting the man’s wife and children.

This is some heavy stuff, what with the themes of parental abandonment (the boy’s mother chooses suicide over trying to survive with her family), mercy with overwhelming personal cost, and how we hold on to our humanity in the face of what’s likely imminent extinction.  I’ve heard that reading The Road can provide a litmus test for your worldview, since it ends with so much ambiguity; yeah, the boy is taken in by this other family, but realistically what are the chances they’ll survive?  In a world where humanity’s probably going to die out within a few years anyway, what’s the point?

I guess the point is that the man loves his son, and he’ll go to some extreme lengths to give his boy a chance to grow up with hope.

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