The following was posted as a comment earlier this afternoon in response to my film review of the film adaptation. In it I said
I saw this film with a friend who hadn't read the book and there was eye-rolling at the scene with the can of coke. It came off as terrible product placement in the film, unfortunately. I explained that in the book, that can of coke tells the reader several things: that this boy was born post-apocalypse and how long approximately it has been since the world fell apart. Because you're told this explicitly by Mortensen's narration at the beginning of the film, the scene is redundant and unfortunately comes off looking like advertising.
I asked the writer if I could repost his comment here and he agreed. From Solidarity Community News Melbourne, here's Ben's thoughts on the scene with the can of Coke:
I think it's useful to consider the ideological world-view of the film in trying to assess the use of Coca-Cola. In the book it may indeed serve the narrative by providing information about the birth of the kid and the recentness of the apocalypse, but - try as I might - I just can't see how this information couldn't have been conveyed in other ways. As you've pointed out Rhiannon, in the film it was already apparent from other narrative clues - not just the voice over but also in the flashback scenes with Charlize Theron. So narratively the Coca-Cola scene was redundant. What else was it about then?
Both McCormack and Mortensen claim the iconic status of the Coke can and its ability to signify something specifically American (consumerism? World-capitalist dominance? The singular, superficial language of brand identity?) were integral to their attachment to this narrative device in the book and film.
Mortensen said "we were approaching the day we were going to shoot that scene, which I was looking forward to, and they said, 'we're not going to be able to use Coke. We’ll have to use...Brand X soda or something.' I said that's not the same thing. Coke is so iconic around the world. It's a symbol, of America, of a certain way of life."
Meanwhile, McCarthy's take is: "Well, it just struck me. It's the iconic American product. The one thing that everybody knows about America, the one thing above cowboys and Indians, above everything else that you can think of, is Coca-Cola. You can't go to a village of 18 people in the remotest part of Africa that they don't know about Coca-Cola."
In the end, according to the article at the first link above, it was Mortensen lobbying a Coca-Cola executive about what a wonderful branding opportunity the film represented that resulted in the can of Coke actually being included in the film. Initially - so the story goes - Coca-Cola had been reluctant to allow the use of their product because it was going to be an R-rated film. (A curious story, as ratings are made upon censors viewing the final theatrical cut, not during the development and production phases, though in fairness ratings can usually be accurately guessed ahead of time given a story’s content).
Mortensen claims he told the executive "you’re going to get for free something that potentially is as good as having an ad in the Super Bowl". Considering how much the scene resembled a Super Bowl ad, it's quite plausible that there is more to the story which Mortensen has neglected to mention on the publicity circuit; that the scene was subsequently developed to satisfy the commercial interests of Coca-Cola more than to satisfy the narrative requirements of the film.
Regardless, I think that McCarthy and Mortensen are kind of tools if they really thought the Coca-Cola motif was *so* integral to the story because of its iconic connection to the American Capitalist Way of Life. It's kind of obvious given that we're looking at a post-apocalyptic scenario that this phase of history has ended - why do we need cheap, shallow reminders of its worst aspects to drive home the blatantly obvious? It's hard not to read their enthusiasm for the 'iconic' Coke can in fiction as implicit enthusiasm for Coca-Cola's global market and cultural dominance in reality.
Personally I am ethically, politically and spiritually opposed to the system in which brands, marketing and monopoly capitalism dominate lives and human cultures. I think the prioritisation of the Coke can could only have come from people who are more comfortable with this.
As I write this, I feel the film's ideology is becoming clearer to me. It essentially presents an argument for private property and the sanctity of the consuming, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family-unit. Despite having really quite enjoyed the film at the time, I'm now not quite as enthused by it after all.
For those of you that have read the book or seen the film adaptation, what is your opinion? Was the can of Coke a theatrical device or evidence of our love of branding and consumerism? Was there any difference in the way the scene was presented in the book compared to the film?