Heroes of the Zeroes: The Road
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
As an unexpectedly uplifting parable about faith, kindness and fatherhood at world’s end, “The Road” transcended sad, gray post-apocalyptic tropes.
John Hillcoat’s 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel repurposed the refrain of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” to fit its own biblical, bloody terms. But that didn’t mean a watering-down of McCarthy’s hangman prose. Like “Children of Men,” this adaptation carefully transposed violent, firelight horrors onto a larger canvas, grappled with tough questions and avoided nihilistic wallowing.
After an indeterminate apocalypse, survivors roam a cold earth nearly bereft of animals and crops, seeking food however and wherever they can. Many have become cannibals, but not the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), his son born into this wasteland, as they travel to “reach the coast.”
The Boy is the Man’s lone light — a child whose birth he encouraged against the wishes of a now-absent mother (Charlize Theron). Denying him would deny all beauty that once existed.
Mortensen’s stoicism masks a terrifying hypothetical: If necessary, can he kill what he willed into this world? Meanwhile, Smit-McPhee channels a child’s terror and confusion over grim absolutes: If the Man dies, carry on or put a pistol in his mouth.
As the Man’s protection imperative hardens his heart, together they face the quandary of whether it’s truly good to simply avoid evil.
In its tranquil climax, “The Road” offered beautiful metaphors for deliverance from childhood and the importance of parental flaws in imparting critical values, regardless of good intent or harmlessness.