I had not identified it before, but after watching The Road last night on DVD, I realized I have a fascination with post-apocalyptic films, as one reviewers describes as “near future” views of our world.

Maybe it was first watch of the Road Warrior I saw as a teen, but on my flight home from Austin Friday I found myself again watching I am Legend (I think Sam is the real star in the movie).

Unlike most science fiction, these movies are easy extrapolations from the world we know today, and ones in which we cannot blame meteors, volcanoes, tornados, aliens for taking away our world- humanity does it to itself. And then there is the wondering, would I survive in this new grim world (doubtful) (but there is only one way to know) (and then I would not be here blogging about it).

That trailer is rather mis-leading in representing the story; it uses the bits that would draw people into the theater, but I guess as a good trailer should it never broaches the story.

With some trepidation, I picked up the DVD for The Road when I spotted it at the Pine (AZ) Public Library, my main video store. It is not without some wariness I watch a movie version of a book I really liked. I read Cormac McCarthy’s sparse powerful poetic iteration of this story when it first came out, would the movie rise to that or not?

There is a terseness to McCarthy’s writing that makes sense when you think about it. “Parsimonious” would be a drastic understatement. The lead characters are cold, tired, hungry, scared, and have only each other to use for hope- of course you would not have long flowery descriptive text.

They went on. The boy was crying. He kept looking back. When they got to the bottom of the hill the man stopped and looked at him and looked back up the road. The burned man had fallen over and at that distance you couldnt even tell what it was. I’m sorry he said. But we have nothing to give him. We have no way to help him. I’m sorry for what happened to him but we cant fix it. You know that, dont you? The boy stood looking down. He nodded his head. They went on and he didnt look back again.

Short sparse sentences. Dialogue that does not have energy for things like quotes and apostrophes. The dialogue merges into the thoughts into the description of what is happening. It makes it a blur, but that’s more like how (I think) we operate in the world. We switch from being in our head to being with others to observing.

The characters are sparse. We only know them as “The Boy”, “The Man”, “Bearded Man #2”, “The Veteran”, “Motherly Woman” “The Thief”- we don’t know where they are from, what they were in life before this. And what amazingly intense short “cameos” (that word is cheap) by Robert Duvall, Guy Pierce, Kenneth Williams (Omar from The Wire)- you would not even recognize them how they appear in the film except when you hear their voices, especially Duvall.

The movie takes that sparseness to the visual, no small feat. There is a thankful absence of narrated talk overs to tell us what we see, or why it is there- it is just there. The film-makers did the bulk of their work in real settings, not in a studio, using (post apocalyptic) winter Pennsylvania, abandoned mines, the grey Oregon coast, and the real destruction from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Those real scenes of destruction used as background- the trees downed at Mount St. Helens, hurricane devastated New Orleans and its grey skyline, all add to the setting that this is not some sci-fi future scale, but our own.

At the same time, the lack of obvious icons of places (e.g. the Planet of the Apes statue on the beach) make it even more clear how crushed our future world is; its hard to tell time or place passage because it is devastated everywhere.

And those bits of the dead trees just crashing down because they are so dead, is utterly powerful. One loses track, but the Boy has known only this world, and only has some tattered books, his father’s stories, a found can of Coke, to even link him to The World Before.

Watching the DVD extras (good films on disc take 2.5 times to watch- the extras plus the film again with commentary) bring a huge amount of respect for the actors who not only “got into the role” but suffered through the challenging conditions to even get deeper into the character.

One should not expect the movie to be an equivalent of the book, and this one is not of course, because so much more can happen in words then in representing on film, but as the Director remarked in the commentary, it captures the spirit and message of the book. Much of the key dialogue is directly from the book.

So yes, it ought to be a warning that we can, as a human race, through our own agression, greed, stupidity, wreck everything we take for granted in life. We can see how such conditions can bring out the worst and nest in us. And at first reaction, the film is so grim, so intense, you have to say, “this is far from a feel good movie.”

But thats where the story is, this incredible love story between a father and son, what each would do for the other in the extreme of circumstances (and hopefully we don’t need the extreme to reach this plane), the passing on of the ideas on virtues from one generation to the next. As grim and gray and depressing a world is depicted here, this is a powerful story of love, the “fire inside” we ought to keep, seek, and share.

Do you remember that little boy, Papa?
Yes. I remember him.
Do you think he’s all right that little boy?
Oh yes. I think he’s all right.
Do you think he was lost?
No. I dont think he was lost.
I’m scared that he was lost.
I think he’s all right.
But who will find him if he’s lost? Who will find the little boy?
Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again.

I give this one 4 paws up.

Featured Image: Tornado Destruction flickr photo by pocketwiley shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Now I HAVE to watch the film. For some time I was seriously into post-apocalyptic sci-fi. There is a whole lot of good stuff in that genre, which I also find fascinating. I’ve loved it since I was a kid… I think some of it comes from the strange comfort the idea of being the last person on Earth had– and sometimes still has– for me. It’s a sophisticated, layered equivalent to the little blanket forts I would build as a child and hide from the world, imagining there was no one left but myself. No one to love or love me, true, but also no one to hurt me. And I like the thought of being a Robinson Crusoe figure in the contemporary environment. I really should write about this in my own blog at some point.

    Anyway, there are many good (and bad!) post-apocalyptic films too… have you seen _The Quiet Earth_? Or _Omega Man_, an earlier film of _I Am Legend_? Also interesting is _A Boy and His Dog_, based on the Harlan Ellison novella…

  2. Alan,

    I think I had a very similar response to this movie that you did. Not only the deep draw between the idea of father and son, but also the horror of what’s always a possibility. I think the scene in the basement is when I knew I really liked the film, it made me deeply disturbed. And then the other scene in the bomb shelter, that so very short-lived happiness and respite. Certain visuals from this film continue to haunt, particularly the Southern manse, and I’m wondering if all the post-apocalyptic “comfort” we take in the end, or even the undead comedic complement to that these days, isn;t some judgement on our sense of agency and possibility. It’s a world that wants dramatic change, it is almost calling for it. I associated this film with children of Men, but unlike The Road, Children of Men has a background, this are happening, the world has kinda died in this one.

    It’s funny, after reading The Road and watching the film, I went out on Bryan Alexander recommendation on Twitter a while backing talking about the Judge, and than later confirmed by Brian Lamb, I got Blood Meridian, and I was really blown away. It actually works well with The Road, and it may very well be one of the best novels I have ever read. The parsimonious style to the point of utter abnegation is right on, and what’s crazy about McCarthy, according to Poet, shortstory writer, and publisher Rod Smith, is that “Cormac Mccarthy suggest to me just how great Faulkner was, because Faulkner knew when to stop.” That’s right, I think what is so seductive about McCarthy to me right now is he doesn’t know when to stop, and Blood Meridian is just that. How does a person regularly get up every morning and say I am gonna start writing this horor again, and then again tomorrow. I don’t know how one can step outside of such visions of total annihilation, despite the lingering ghosts of emotions.

    Happy belated Halloween, dog.

  3. Chris beat me to it – I just watched “The Quiet Earth” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089869/) last week and was going to recommend it as an interesting counterpoint to the classic American apocalypse tale.

    Now on the other hand, if you want to see what is quite possibly the worst post-apocalypse film ever (though Groom probably loves it!) try http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075909/ – the only reason I know it is that my school had it in French and we watched it over and over in French class!

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