The great feeling that comes with pressing a book into another person's hands and saying, 'You have to read this' was one which many people experienced after finishing Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel 'The Road'. A mix of post-apocalyptic odyssey, cautionary tale and the best and worst of human nature, 'The Road' became a book that broke down age and genre barriers and reminded us that when materialism is stripped away what we are left with is the most important thing: each other. Every emotion that was felt while reading it rises up while watching John Hillcoat's film.
Following an unspecified global disaster, civilisation and the eco-system have collapsed and cannibalism has become the norm/a danger for the few survivors. Among them are a father and son (Mortensen and Smit-McPhee) who are heading south. The man feels his time is drawing near and has a bullet for each of them. The boy has known no other life and, despite the horror he sees every day, has an optimism that his father lost long ago.
For those worried that 'The Road' would get some kind of sugar coating or action movie makeover for the big screen, don't be. This film is as grim and unrelenting as the book, but, just like the book, the moments of hope shine all the brighter because there is so much darkness. And given that so many Australian directors have focussed on nature and its impact on the lives of people, it's fitting that Hillcoat should be behind the lens. The images here of a barren Earth are an open-mouth experience and as a doomsday vision this is one of cinema's most memorable.
On every page of 'The Road' were two characters that you wanted the best (of what was left) for and it's the same here watching Mortensen and Smit-McPhee as father and son. In a low-key performance, 'The Lord of the Rings' star captures the confusion of a man who is trying to protect and toughen up his boy at the same time, while Smit-McPhee does a fine job as the child who worships his father but is more than willing to point out when his moral compass goes haywire. The duo's moments of poignancy are as engrossing as any of the tension-filled setpieces created by Hillcoat.
This film is part of a very rare club: one that does justice to the source material and will make you want to return to it or read it for the first time. You leave the cinema as you closed the cover, warmed by thoughts of the people you have been blessed with in your life.
Keep carrying the fire.