What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘apocalypse’? Zombies I bet. What about the people left alive fighting those zombies? Or people left alive in another kind of post apocalyptic setting? I bet the picture in your head is something like this:
and you hang out with people who look like this:
An array of movies and TV shows have assured us the apocalypse is pretty cool. The life of survivors is hard, but in an uber cool and sexy way. Men become men and women become bad-ass warrior queens, everyone wears leather and gets a Clint Eastwood glint in their eyes and there’s no shortage of quality hair dressers and fashionable clothes. I mean the way they sell it, you would fantasize about living in such a world. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where accountants and business analysts can become warlords and call the shots with sawed off shotguns and unlimited ammo?
And then, I saw a Netflix suggestion for the 2009 movie ‘The Road’, starring Viggo Mortensen, who you might remember better as Aragon from Lord of the Rings, the man who put the ‘King’ in The Return of the King. Who wouldn’t want to see Aragorn and his son taking on what’s left of the world? The last time he was on the road, he took on 5 (or 6?) of the Nazgul by himself and came on top like a champ.
To my surprise, in this movie Viggo Mortensen doesn’t even look like he’s heard of a king. Unlike walking dead where Daryl Dixon always has petrol and spare parts for his bike, The Man (his name is never mentioned) in this movie walks around rolling a supermarket trolley filled with whatever scraps they can find for supplies (and it doesn’t even roll properly).
This movie scared the hell out of me. They never mention what exactly happened to the world and all we know is that its ruined and grey now. All the trees are dead, all the plants are dead and as far as we can see, all the animals are too. There are no zombies, but there are people who eat other people, which is scarier because its so much more believable. When all other prey is gone, which animal do you think you’ll still find, eating scraps out of tin cans and trudging along and being a sustainable food source? Quite understandably, the Man has one revolver and two bullets left, and he saves them for themselves.
The plot isn’t complicated. The world has gone to hell and we are following the journey of this man who is walking the road with his son, desperate to get to the shore, even though they don’t really know if things are better there. Early on in the movie, the man says ‘All I know is, the child is my warrant. If this isn’t the word of God then God never spoke’. The movie is about what a Man will do to make his son survive. It is a story about Fatherhood, but not a nice and cuddly one. It all sounds glorious on paper but when you see the world he is keeping him alive in, you wonder if he really is a good father or an animal clinging obsessively to a genetic impulse to keep his progeny alive, even though it might be kinder to let him die quick. In fact, that debate is a central theme in the movie. The sweet and idealistic boy, one of the last in the world isn’t really presented as a ray of hope. The boy is an angel trudging through the dirt and gore of what we men made the world into, and anyone who remembers a bit of decency from before sees him and hangs their head in shame. Does he deserve to be kept alive in a world like that?
Every scene communicates one thing and one thing only- desperation. When the man and his son aren’t searching for food, they are worrying about shoes. The only time they get a haircut is when they find a bunker of sorts, and it is portrayed as a luxury he can hardly believe. Father and son are both skin and bones, with every rib showing. They don’t have access to the high protein food everyone is every other post apocalyptic movie or series seems to have. When the Man spends quality time with his son, he makes him practice putting the gun in his own mouth and blowing his own brains out in case he is dead and the bad men catch him.
Depressing as it is, I think everybody should see this movie. We all need a reminder that the apocalypse isn’t cool, that the damage we are doing to the world and the ecosystems will not lead to a wild west fantasy world which is a little difficult, but just so.
Thanks to this movie and Viggo Mortensen’s performance, I will never daydream about the apocalypse again, but I might have nightmares.