Friday, 25 February 2011

The Road

I finally got round to watching The Road. My wife bought it for me on DVD but it has been sitting on the shelf for a long time now.

My wife hasn't read the book, but I have and it's a book that had a big impact on me. I read it on the train journey to and from Halifax a couple of years ago when I was up for the Calderdale Book Award. I had read several Cormac McCarthy books before and so I was expecting something that was beautifully written. I was ready too for violence - McCarthy's books all have moments of brutal violence in them. But I was taken by surprise by how moving I found The Road. A friend said she found it 'sentimental' but I certainly did not. I found it harrowing.

But how would a movie of this book work? And could it stand alone - as all movies should be able to - without using the prior knowledge of the book as a prop? I wasn't sure.

Actually, I think it is quite a good movie. Viggo Mortensen is excellent in the lead and . The challenge in turning a book into a movie is that so much of the pleasure in reading a book is to do with the way it is written - the voice of the author. Stripping that away, you are left with plot and the hope that you can evoke some visual equivalent of the authorial voice.

Or you can chicken out and have a narrator.

There is a bit of narration in The Road. They obviously could not bear to lose McCarthy's voice completely - and who can blame them. But it does throw up the puzzle of how we are hearing the voice. In the book the voice is McCarthy's, not the man's - although the narrator is identified with the man. But in the movie it is Viggo Mortensen's voice and where is it coming from?

The bigger loss of nerve was in the flashbacks. They clearly did not want a movie in which women played no part.

But the incidental music was probably the most jarring thing. This is a dead world covered in ash. It is a silent world - horribly so. It would have been better by far if the only sound had been the squeaking trolley wheels and the trudge of footsteps. But I am probably describing a Tarkovsky movie rather than a Hollywood one.

Stripped of McCarthy's writing, the book seems more like a dystopian sci-fi story than it did when reading it. I don't think McCarthy was at all interested in what caused the catastrophic change in human fortunes. He just wanted to look at humanity pared down. The movie reminded me of Richard Matheson's I am Legend (the novel, not the dreadful movie) - and reminded me again of how good that book is.

But I think the movie does retain some of the books interesting themes, not least the very pertinent issue of how brutal we can become and still claim to be civilised.

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