Friday, December 11, 2009

The Road film and Guest post at Cassandra Jade

Hi everyone! Today I'm over at Cassandra Jade in the Realm talking about writing. She asked aspiring and published writers to explain what writing is to them. I said, "Writing is ... doing horrible things to the people you love." See the rest of the post here. And let me know what you think!

Last night I saw The Road. I don't think I've ever seen a film that stayed more faithful to the book it is based on. There was just enough interpretation to take advantage of being a visual medium, such as epic, rusting panoramas and the colours and textures that a book can't offer. There's a beautiful scene when the man returns to his childhood home. It's mouldering and falling apart, but he turns over a couch cushion and finds it just as vivid and beautiful as it always was. And then he sits on the couch, with a look on his face like he's wondering if it was all a dream.

Viggo Mortensen was perfect. He was just the right combination of tenderness, desperation and paranoia. I pictured the boy to be a few years younger than the actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, but it would have been a tough part to play for a younger boy. 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 (I loathe narration in films, it's as subtle as a sledgehammer and corny as hell) the scene is redundant and unfortunately comes off looking like advertising.

The director John Hillcoat and Nick Cave have worked together on previous films, none of which I have seen. I love Nick Cave's haunting and beautiful music, so who better to write the score for this film? ("Into My Arms" will reduce you to tears, and "Loverman" is one of the most disturbingly sexy songs around.) Unfortunately, the score was shocking. Corny, intrusive and infantile, the music blundered over scenes that would have been better off silent. The piano became a symbol of the man's dead wife and these stickily sentimental compositions popped up every other scene. There was one playing as the credits rolled and I turned to my friend and said, "OMG, we have to get out of here!" It was really that bad. Nick Cave, what the hell??

Music aside, this was an amazing film. The Road is a difficult book both in its language and bleakness, but Hillcoat has made it palatable for a mass audience without compromising Cormac McCarthy's vision.

A longer review for this film comparing it to the book will shortly be up on X&Y Magazine.


  1. HAHAHA love it. Yeah im still seeing avatar instead i think.

  2. Fabulous review! I've been really curios about this one. My husband and I rarely go to movies (or rent them) so it's great to have such great online reviews. :)

  3. I can't wait to see this! I want to read the book first though. It's on my list; hurry up Christmas!!

  4. Aimee nooooooooooooooo! It is so much better than Avatar I am SURE.

    I hope you enjoy it Shannon and Bethany!

  5. I'm looking forward to seeing this. At the same time, I'm a bit worried that it might taint my memory of the book that I both loved and hated in equal measures. No book has ever disturbed me as much as this one.

    I read your post on Cassandra Jade. So funny and so true. The things we do to our characters!

  6. I have to admit I'm a little scared to read this book. Cormac McCarthy is so intense and I've heard that the book is very disturbing. Am I a wuss or what?

  7. You're not a wuss at all! This book is very disturbing, but it's also very poignant and beautiful. If you read it, let me know what you think.

    Jade, I reckon you're safe with this one. It's very respectful of the book.

  8. Ooh, I have read The Road and loved it. But it really bothered me for a while after I finished it. Like you said, very disturbing images. I'm glad to hear that the movie is faithful to the book. Can't wait to see it:)

  9. Sounds like an interesting movie. Thanks once again for your contribution to the series and thanks for the link.

  10. Thank you for the heads up on "The Road." I was wondering if that was worth a look. I'll probably wait for the DVD.

    Also, I wanted to send along kudos for your Writing Is. As you said, it's all about the characters. I have to love my characters to get the readers love them as well.

  11. Hi Rhiannon,

    This is off topic, but I want to let you know I'm passing a blog award on to you. Check it out at my blog.


  12. This sounds pretty good. I'm really torn about whether to read the book first or just go ahead and see the movie though.

  13. 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 V.O. 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." Source:

    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." Source:

    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 McCormack 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.