On John Hillcoat's Film Version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

So it took me a while to get around to watching The Road (2009), partly because I knew it would be a grim experience. The novel is one of the few books that count as a masterpiece of the 21st century, hopefully not prophetic. The film has its moments: the cinematography is moody and artsy, and at times the devastated world is beautiful in a horrific way, even if McCarthy’s description is much better. Both Viggo Mortensen and the boy actor (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are convincing, especially the boy, in moments when’s meant to be terrified. And perhaps I’m too much of a purist, but the few times when Hillcoat swerves from the novel all seem clumsy. 1) The New Family: This comes at the end. I had to recheck the text to see if I’d remembered it wrong, because in the film the mother in the final moments says something like, “We’ve been following you all along.” It goes back to the moment early in the novel when the boy says he sees another child, which you can’t really tell if it’s real or imagined. In the novel it’s definitely real. Logistically, this doesn’t make much sense. Somehow they’re walking through this bleak landscape, with no other people but the marauding cannibals now and then, and they don’t notice the family of four behind them? 2) There’s an awful moment when father/son stumble upon (it happens very quickly) a mother/son being attacked and killed/raped by the cannibals. This supplants the roasted-baby moment of the novel, which doesn’t appear in the film. But it seems clumsy and, again, logistically unlikely. It somehow violates the internal logic of the novel/film. Plus it’s straight out of The Road Warrior (1981), which is itself clumsy. 3) The dungeon scene, where father/son come upon the people being kept as food, is much longer and more detailed. It also doesn’t make much sense. In the novel you know the father looks inside the trapdoor for food, but in this version he goes through a series of rooms, with the boy, before they come upon the food-slave people, who then claw and scratch at them.
My verdict? If I didn’t know the novel so well, I’d probably rank it as a pretty good horror film. But that’s not what the novel is, at all. Part of me likes this: Film may have become the dominant medium now, but novels can still trump films for certain effects, such as philosophical mayhem.
Here’s a url to a good review of the film. I don’t agree with all of it, but I like it nonetheless:

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