Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Road

Whatever Gets You Off - The Last Vegas (mp3)
The Road to Ensenada - Lyle Lovett (mp3)

I cried twice when I first read Cormac McCarthy's The Road three years ago.

The only other time I ever recall having to wipe away tears from my eyes while reading a book because the damn pages got too blurry was when I was in seventh grade and read Where the Red Fern Grows for summer reading. In that book, I cried when the boy is carrying his disemboweled dog home in the desperate hopes of saving its life. What can I say? The kid's name was Billy. I was young and took the book very personally.

This isn't because books don't stir my emotions. But, much like a book is played out in the mind, on the storyboard of imagination, my tears for a novel's plot are usually leaked inside the synapses in my brain. I weep more openly for movies and TV shows. It's more visceral, for better and worse.

On Tuesday, I saw the film version of The Road. I'd read the reviews. It was going to be a draining and miserable experience, but I'd promised myself I would do it the day I first heard about the movie. I owed it to the book, strange as that sounds. To the characters. Especially that father, and that son, but to others as well. For books I really love, I feel obligated to see the films, knowing damn well the movies can't be as good. But they don't have to be. I don't expect that out of a movie. It's not fair.

Few if any of you will see this film. Doing so means you want to be weighed down, sad, full of despair, for almost two hours. And you're paying an ungodly amount of cash to do so.

That said, here's my take: It's the perfect film to conclude 2009.

Although I haven't seen Up in the Air and desperately want to, and although lots of folks claim that flick captures much of 2009's angst and zeitgeist, I can't imagine it's a more pristine way to wrap up this year than The Road. Especially if you watch it alone. No one to share your reactions. No one you can look over and see their reactions and feel like you've got company in that hellhole of a film. Just you, with a handful of strangers, miserably engaged in a nightmare scenario.

Massive unemployment? Skyrocketing health care costs? Political backbiting better suited to professional wrestling? Terrorists with explosives next to their nuts? Yup, that all feels pretty damned oppressive. But 20 minutes into The Road, all that shit ain't shit.

None of the world's current burdens matter as much. You just want to go find a loved one and hold them. You want to go out and start your car engine and hum along to its happy engine tune. You want to roll down the window and look at all that glorious light pollution coming from street lamps. You want to play that glorious iPod and hear mindless stupid shit like The Last Vegas, whose sole skill is making AC/DC seem high-minded. (No offense, Vegas... I enjoy the hell out of this song.)

You think you got problems? Try living in a world without electricity, without plant life, with few mammals, and where your fellow man is just as likely to eat you as shake your hand. Try shepherding your child in that environment, without any assistance from anyone.

Parenting, brought down to it's very primal core of love, protection, and nurturing.

You want some theology? You want a kind of violence that makes the shit in Transformers feel even more fakey and meaningless than it already does? You want Robert Duvall pulling off a kind of role only Robert Duvall can? You want to see a kid evolve from an almost ignorable sidekick into an actor who convinces you he's really living the part? This flick's got it.

You want to leave a movie feeling a moral compulsion to be a better parent, to savor the mundane miracles embracing us every minute, to go watch some sitcoms and maybe back that up with The Hangover? This is your film.

Sure, it's probably 2010 when you read this. But it's not too late to watch a film that makes 2009 seem pretty damn OK.

And the next time you find yourself about to say the words, "I'd do anything for my children"? Maybe you'd best comprehend just what you're saying, and then maybe you should find another way to say it.


Daisy said...

Very compelling post. I'm not sure I have the courage to see this movie, but I'm thinking about reading the book.

Hope you have health and happiness in 2010!

Bob said...

I'm trying to gear up to see it. Maybe the night before I go back to work next week is the proper frame of mind.

Tockstar said...

So, do you recommend reading the book first or is it okay to go straight to the film?

Billy said...

Tock, it totally depends on your own style on the movie/book dichotomy. If I know I want to read the book, I have to do it before seeing the movie. Reading a book after seeing the film is rarely as rewarding. Too much of the text has already been visually translated for me and given some director's personal take.

But I know plenty of folks who prefer seeing the movies first, and it works for them just fine.

Personally, I just can't see myself watching this movie and then saying, "Hey! I sure would like to prolong this miserable feeling and spend a few weeks of my life reading about this!"

BeckEye said...

Never read it, never saw the movie. But I've only heard good things. I may have to pick up that book.

But I love, love, love that Lyle Lovett song!