Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Boy and His DAD

The Road, Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel about survivors in a world devastated by an unexplained nuclear disaster, sets the same tone as another of his "glass is half-empty" efforts, No Country For Old Men, except without all the laughs.

The bleak story follows the travels of an unnamed father and son as they constantly scavenge for food and shelter while making their way South to warm climate armed only with a shopping cart and a gun that has two bullets.

This is not a Mad Max adventure that takes a fun, action oriented view of the apocalypse. The minimalistic writing style McCarthy employs (he doesn't use any punctuation such as quotation marks or capital letters) sets the appropriate mood.

Early on, we learn that the father, who appears to have a medical background, realizes that he is suffering from a fatal respiratory ailment (presumably brought on by the harsh environment).

The mother has committed suicide rather than face the gangs of thieves, rapists, and cannibals that now roam about in search of prey. Their prospects grim, the father presses forward only because of his concern for the well-being of his son.

The HBO Western, Deadwood, explored the idea that it's the nature of human societies to engage in a sort of reverse entropy and create a social order where none exist.

The Road paints a different view of mankind.

Like a clock that's been broken into a million pieces, civilization, once destroyed, can never quite be put back together. However, as demonstrated by the father and son, we cling to the remnants of those broken parts in the vain hope that someday the clock may work again.

The Road is powerful stuff. It's gripping and suspenseful one minute, then touching and tender the next.

McCarthy claims to have been inspired by the relationship with his own son. Indeed, the parallel to the dying father and McCarthy, who became a parent rather late in life, seems pretty clear.

A movie version starring Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son is due out this Fall.

While it's my understanding that they're remaining true to the novel, the fact that Charlize Theron is cast as the mother gives me pause. It's hard to imagine a big name star like her playing a part that only takes up about five pages in the book. So, I'm guessing the role is getting beefed up for the film.

The thought of this sort of tinkering fills me with a bit of angst and dread that I think Cormac McCarthy himself would appreciate. The work of writers like McCarthy and Elmore Leonard can be f'd up pretty easy when other people tweak it.

But, we shall see.

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