(In theatres, December 2009) There’s been a lot of post-apocalyptic films lately, and hopefully The Road will signal that we can go back to something else, because it’s hard to imagine a realistic take on the end of the world that could be greyer, sadder and more relentlessly desperate than this one. There’s no glamour, fun or adventure in this film set about a decade after an unseen, unspecified but all-encompassing catastrophe: The rare survivors are grimy and constantly forced to fight cannibals on their way. As an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name, it’s pretty faithful: Charlize Theron has a far bigger role in the film’s trailer than in the entire book, but the rest is pretty dead-on. This means that rather than reading 241 bleak pages trying to find new ways to describe “gray doom”, you get to see 112 very long minutes of the same. While The Road is a success in that it does manage to hit most of its objectives, it will take a special kind of viewer to appreciate it. The rest are likely to spend their time looking at their watches and wondering when it will finally end (and if the characters can’t die a bit sooner for it to happen.) I suppose that film scholars will have a lot to say about the film’s nuanced take on fatherhood, man’s inhumanity to man, the nature of hope and the way decaying character is seldom self-perceived, but first you have to endure the post-apocalyptic gloom. Viggo Mortensen fans will be pleased; so will those looking for buildings unexplainably still burning ten years after everything goes gray. As for the rest, well, 2012 is also available. Now that is a catastrophic choice.
Knopf, 2006, 241 pages, C$30.00 hc, ISBN 0-307-26543-9
A man and a woman are walking down a path near the Rideau Canal.
It’s spring and the snow blanketing Ottawa will stay away for a few months. Patches of green suggest that summer is coming up. The canal is a popular lunchtime destination for the office workers who won’t stay locked up inside their cubicles.
The man and the woman walk together, but they don’t hold hands. They’re not in other relationships either, but if they were, they wouldn’t be walking together like that.
Turns out I read a Pulitzer-winning novel last weekend, he says.
Thats quite unlike you, she says.
It was an accident. Cormac McCarthys The Road. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Even Oprah picked-
You read a book from the Oprah Book club? Now thats unusual-
Hey, I paid nine dollars extra to get the hardcover without the Oprah sticker. Please.
Right. And I suppose that this book is…
I knew it.
But its really something else. Post apocalyptic. The guy who wrote it isnt a Science Fiction writer.
So he just accidentally wrote SF?
Maybe. I mean, the point of the story is to show a man and his son at a time where everything has been destroyed. Theres no fancy science, no gadgets, no big plot to save the world. Just two people walking down a road, trying to survive until they can find more food.
They can just catch rabbits.
Its not so simple. This is a post-post-apocalyptic story, years after the big event that killed off everything.
Maybe. It’s not clear and I dont think the author even cares. The stopped clocks and the ash falling down say nuclear war, but the lack of radioactivity and the big booms could mean an asteroid strike. But if that was the case, half the globe would be OK… oh I just dont know.
I guess it doesnt matter, then.
No. The point is that by the time the book begins, everythings deader than dead, and every place has been looted more times than you can count. All the plants are gone, most of the people are gone, and the only way anyone can eat is to get lucky and find cans that have somehow escaped everyone else.
Wow. That doesnt sound too good.
The prose tries really hard to find all the possible synonyms for gray ash. Its not a novel for depressives.
It could make anyone feel better, though. Show you how things could be worse.
I dont think reading about a baby being roasted on a spit is going to make anyone feel better about their lives.
Sorry about that.
Just dont mention it again.
They announced it won the Pulitzer this morning: For prose fiction.
For a Science Fiction book.
They say its for literary merit. For good writing.
Writing without dialogue tags. Removing apostrophes. Stuff they teach in university.
That must make all of your scifi friends mad.
You should see what they say on the blogs. Half of it says science fiction rocks, the other half is beating themselves up about how the book is bad SF that stole everything from other genre books.
What about you?
The novel is all right. Its not telling a story you can cheer for, but its much better than genre fiction at atmosphere and prose. Even if it stays a one tone melody through the book.
You’re going to die, you ‘re going to die for three hundred pages?
Something like that. You forgot the part where they walk and eat.
They do that a lot?
Its pretty much all they do. Its a good thing the ending is more optimistic. Though after everything that came before, it doesnt take much to make a happy ending.
Not my kind of book, I think.
I wouldnt even try to suggest it to you. But its not that bad. And if it can convince some people that science fiction can be respectable, well thats just a bonus.
They stop at a bend in the canal. Lunchtime’s more than halfway over, and they’ll have to head back to the cubicles before long. Leaning against the metal railing, they watch a small boat go past.
And you know what, he says, it does make you feel glad to be alive.
She grabs his hand and squeezes it.
She has never done that before.
But it’s a start.