Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Road

Praised and talked about everywhere, it may even seem opportunistic to make an entry on The Road now but, after recently watching the film and (shortly afterwards and in a record time) reading the book, some urgent thoughts assaulted me after finishing my insight into the unsettling world recreated in Cormac McCarthy's novel. Published almost four years ago, it was only following the successful and truthful filmed adaptation by John Hillcoat and Joe Penhall starring Vigo Mortensen (smells like his first Oscar here) that I came across the painful and hopeless journey of our unnamed man and his unnamed son.

This blog is not a sort of amateur critic's pick-of-the-day so I will spare you the big bombastic adjectives (gripping, enthralling, mesmerising and the like) that have flooded the media when describing McCarthy's tale of survival. The story is indeed hard though. It is grim, dark and profoundly sad. Those who see hope in it actually want to see hope, because after all the hardship suffered by the two in their journey to the coast, we are just offered an open end probably leading to more months or even years of struggle wandering a dead world, we witness the first steps towards human extinction.

And is this image, a dead world inhabited by the remains of a humanity that has annihilated itself, that takes me to the eerie conclusion noted by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek: Do we have to kill off the Biosphere (and with it, of course, ourselves) to see humans act humanly? Do we spare solidarity and unconditional love for times when just a few survivors can actually enjoy it? Do we have to lose all we have in order to keep "the fire" of civilization alive?

Maybe what fascinates us from this story, apart from the gory tales of cannibalism, is the fact that it makes you wonder whether you really want to be one of those chosen (or cursed) few to stay alive when nothing but ashes is left from our world.

In some post-apocalyptic visions there is a veiled celebration of the recovered freedom that comes with the collapse of social order (Mad Max, Waterworld), in other instances good and evil are separated with broad lines (28 days later, Terminator). In The Road though, we only see a hopeless man trying to keep himself and his son alive. And even though he tries really hard to maintain some dignity as a means of holding to his humanity, it's hard not to see how he slips into a mere fight for survival where others humans are a just a danger or a nuisance.

And here is where the most haunting prospect springs to mind. The realisation that only the untainted boy, someone who never enjoyed our world as we know it, someone who has seen horrors beyond our worst nightmares, is nevertheless still capable of keeping alive what I hold as the noblest value we have as humans: to be good to others, to care about those we don't know even when it puts our own life at risk.

Do we have to lose ourselves to find us back again? If so, we really are f***ed.