"The Road" Headed South?

Often when a discrepancy in plot exists between a novel and its adapted cinematic counterpart, I excuse it and name it to the innate qualities and constraints that separate them as creative mediums. I find it odd when folks assess a film's success by its ability to imitate the events of a book, chronology and all, rejoicing when there are few and feeble or no attempts at all at striking out new thematic territory. Because then what's the point? Why make the film and return to the material? (I, of course, only mean this when the essential ingredients that define a work are still present.) As long as the heart of whatever is being adapted finds its way into the film - or in deleted scenes included on the DVD - then filmmakers can refashion the plot and reinterpret motives and motifs all they please. It's minutiae. The canon of the mythology can accommodate the change in composition. Just like it accommodates variation in audience interpretation. (Are there very many books or films where a thing and all that has to do with the thing must be fixed in order to achieve an adequate understanding or emotional response?)

But, having read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," the inclusion at the beginning of the trailer (our first real glimpse of the thing, which looks bleak and haunting and glorious overall) of news reports that seek to explain or explore in greater (unnecessary) detail how the end of the world came about, is just gratuitous. And, apparently, it's misleading; according to Esquire and the filmmakers (and asserted in no small amount of rhetoric by Harvey Weinstein), none of the first few seconds will be in the final picture. So, I have to ask: then why? Not only will the intro of that trailer (below) not be in the film, which is deceptive, it ends up serving the function of clumping the adaptation in with other post-apocalyptic films that use, by and large, the same phenomena/explanation if not the same imagery as those initial shots of catastrophic phenomena. "I Am Legend," "28 Days Later," "The Happening," "The Quiet Earth," even "Mad Max." As the title suggests, the narrative is not at all about the 'how' but the 'what now?' and the journey for recovery and survival. This is a situation where I would suspend my traditional view on mimicry in adapting other works on film and say that if the film does use the stock footage to launch the survival narrative of the father and son characters, then it's a step in the wrong direction. The opposite direction, even.

Setting up the meat of the film, the road movie aspect, within the context of post-apocalyptic America is essential, yes, but juxtaposing these characters as a response to the terrifying end-of-the-world events that preceded it and showing those events as possible explanation widens the scope of the film so that these sympathetic characters serve as allegorical figures, stand-ins for the human race (which they aren't, the book chronicles their expedition in what might be documentary fashion, not as models of behavior or decision but individual people handling something bigger than them). It also cheapens and dilutes the impact of the narrative by setting in expectations that the film might seek an explanation or arrive at finality to postmodern society. It would become a horror-suspense-thriller about finding solace or the cure in a dead world. (I don't think this would spoil anything, but there are no cures at the end. A world no longer with history doesn't have any determined end point.)

I'm assured by this wonderful article in Esquire by Tom Chiarella, which stops at 3300 words, a rarity in movie journalism these days. This kind of writing I sorely miss. I was not only reminded of the things I loved about this book, but the writing achieved greater nuance through the lens of Chiarella whose prose is as direct as author Cormac McCarthy's is spare. An excerpt via Awards Daily:

Bob Weinstein rolls those trailers, each one assumes the predictable arc of a story compressed to its essence. There is a speed to them that the actual movie — which I saw before seeing the trailers — does not possess or seek to possess, an urgency that feels manufactured. The music is pulse-pounding and urgent, driven to create absurd expectations of action in a movie that quietly elicits worry about the relative friability of the invisible paths that exist between people and what they need. Still, every utterance, every cry for help or hand clasped across the mouth of the boy to suppress a sob, is a fair-enough emanation from the heart of the movie.

The odd thing is, the start of each trailer includes glimpses of a storm, panicky news footage, little puzzle pieces of the world before it ended. No one — not the director or the myriad producers, not the novelist or the screenwriter — had ever even hinted at how it happened, until this.

For someone who loves the book, for anyone who knows the story going in, this is a moment you hoped would never come. Why remind us of the reductive logic of cause and effect? Before the question can be asked, Weinstein stands up, offers his hand, and says, “Okay, we’re going with the first one.” He gives no rationale. And so it seems the metonymic references to the national news, to the weather, to presumed military conflicts laid in as a tonally quiet explanation of what is never known in book or movie, for now will stay in the trailer.

On the other side of the planet, at home in Australia, Hillcoat’s been hearing about these trailers. “We’re so conditioned by postapocalyptic films to be centered on a big event, and they become this high-concept thing. And here there’s this total absence, this negation of explanation. We have to stay with that. So yeah. That’s gonna be a challenge.”

I read the whole thing on my BlackBerry, and again online, and it just makes me more and more intensely excited about seeing this film. (I've also adopted a new goal: to one day write for Esquire. Great articles and topics. Not nearly as surface-level as I once thought.) It does concern me that director John Hillcoat has not been included in how this film gets sold, which makes me afraid that come release day, I'll be surrounded by loud dudes hoping to see some intricate physical action sequences and monsters. That the trailer also sells the "cannibals" as the primary antagonists in the film is another point that I want to contend with that is inaccurate, and hopefully not indicative of anything in the actual film. The primary antagonist isn't other people with crippled ethics and empty stomachs, it's the specter of death itself, and the looming notion that the task of survival can and will at any point become a one-man game, with neither father nor son knowing who would be most fit to stick to the course. But, as I'm reminded by Ryan Adams at AD, these are the people that marketed "The Reader" to $83 million by selling it as a steamy romance instead of as a Holocaust film. These guys, especially Weinstein, want to sell those tickets.

Esquire's calling it the "Most Important Movie of the Year," and that's enough to get my money.

Does "dark and depressing" sound appealing to you?

IMAGE from: Squidoo
TRAILER from: Awards Daily

1 comment:

  1. Yes, "dark and depressing" does sound appealing to me. I enjoyed the book version of The Road and I am also very much looking forward to the movie. Nice post.