Written by Old Bluffer 3rd Feb 2010
There isn't too much to say about this death really.
A diseased, downtrodden, malnourished tramp in a miserable post-apocalyptic world has spent years wishing he was dead, but has to look after his son. After hours of tedious screen time he gets shot in the leg with an arrow and finally dies, allowing us to go home, older and wiser (in the sense that we'd rather play a game of Desert Bus than sit through this awful film again).
Old Bluffer's Thoughts
If the above sounds in any way bleak and depressing then I have done my job, but words alone can't really convey the levels of boredom you will suffer if you ever try and enjoy this on any kind of normal level.
Let's start with the characters, who are uniformly unsympathetic, pointless and dull. There's the boy's mother, who spends about a decade being a mumpy cow before belatedly getting enough post-natal depression to abandon her husband and son by committing suicide (she does this in typically banal fashion, by wandering off one night in her own to slowly die of exposure).
There's the old blind man, whose feet are rotting away, and who has precisely no insightful dialogue to offer us.
There's the boy, who despite being the best of a poor bunch still manages to have an irritating lack of any real personality.
And then of course, we have the Father, of whom this writeup is about.
He is pretty much a waste of space, and does little apart from to illustrate the point that in an apocalypse, just loving your children isn't really enough, you have to have some survival skills as well.
This guy has no skills though, he can start a fire using a cigarette lighter and that's about it. All he seems to spend his time doing is training his son on how to commit suicide using their sole firearm.
And throughout the film, whenever a dangerous situation arises (note "dangerous" should not be mistaken for "exciting") he is all too quick to put the barrel of the gun up against the boy's head rather than focus on a positive escape plan, which must be rather demoralising for
the young chap.
Now the above may sound flippant and childish, but strangely enough, we are perfectly happy to watch serious think pieces here on the MDDB site - deep down, we just love great cinema. The Road is by no means a think piece though, other than to make you think "what the hell kind of implausible dystopia is this?!"
To illustrate the brain-dead nature of the world, I'm going to reference The Book of Eli (q.v.), as both movies were released at a similar time, and both feature an adult and youngster travelling through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Note the Book of Eli has its fair share of problems too, but compared to The Road it is a masterpiece of entertainment.
Clothing and Bedding
Every person in The Road wears comically threadbare clothes, has shoes that barely wrap around their feet and shiver every night under blankets that your average beggar would sneer at. Now bear in mind that civilisation only fell approximately a decade ago and it soon becomes obvious that this is just silly. There would literally be tens of thousands of corpses to loot decent gear from, not to mention myriad army surplus stores etc. Survivors would at worst have decent shoes and plenty of clothing - at best they would be kitted out in goretex mountaineering jackets and resting in 100 tog sleeping bags.
In the Book of Eli, when Denzel Washington wants a new pair of shoes, he just finds a corpse and helps himself.
In the Book of Eli, we have fairly disparate sets of survivors. Some family units hide out in their own territory, some form bands of bandits, taking what they want by force and turning to cannibalism if needed. Still others form larger communities, with all the benefits of scale that numbers can bring to them. Bandits notwithstanding, it is usual to trade using a system of bartering, which benefits both parties. In short, it's reasonably plausible.
In The Road, almost everybody is an Evil Cannibal, there are no permanent settlements and if you see someone the societal norm is to produce the biggest weapon you've got and hope for the best. In the unlikely event that there isn't a fight to the death you engage in a brief game of "I'm more depressed than you - no *I'm* more depressed!" before departing each other for good.
The Book of Eli makes the reasonable assumption that people would scavenge and adapt old technology. Limited fuel would still be available for electrical generators, lead-acid batteries could be replenished, cottage industries would be started up by people with mechanical or engineering skills etc.
The Road has no such human endeavours. Basically, if you can't find a fully functional artifact (such as binoculars) you are bang out of luck. Just live like a bum and pray for the strength to top yourself is the message here.
Eli subsists much like other travellers in his world. He hunts vermin such as wild cats, scavenges supplies from pre-apocalypse times and trades goods for what he can't get himself. Others set up trading communities and yes, some eat humans if they are desperate (despite
this practise causing mutations and disease) The main problem people face is a lack of clean drinking water.
The heroes of the Road on the other hand, live in a world that is mysteriously bereft of any animal or plant life (despite plants being clearly visible in many scenes). Precisely what did such a good job of killing all the rats but leaving the far more fragile humans alive for example is never explained. Scavenging food is surprisingly difficult too, as it would appear that population levels fell in direct proportion to the amount of canned goods left - meaning that there is virtually nothing left. This is patently absurd, as your average supermarket distribution centre would have enough food in it to last survivors many, many years. Miraculously, nobody seems to suffer from rickets or scurvy in this hellish existence, they just look a bit skinny.
Oh, there are cannibals too of course, who exist entirely on human meat, which some of them farm. Let's just consider this for a moment, they farm humans. There is hardly anybody left in the world, making humans an incredibly scarce and precious resource. So when you find some, rather than band together and come up with some decent ideas for agriculture or scavenging, what better idea than to lock them in a cellar so you can eat them for maybe a week at best before their meat spoils? Genius.
Now the above is not a simple case of being pedantic. Most films involve a willing suspension of disbelief, which is a contract we freely enter into, on the understanding that the pay off is that we'll be entertained. In The Road there is no payoff whatsoever, and you spend
your time being so bored that the only thing you can do to avoid falling asleep or slitting your wrists is pick holes in the non-existent plot.
It's not all bad though, there is a videogame tie-in just about to be released on all major consoles. In it, the player gets to become
Aragorn Father, travelling through photo-realistic bleakness with the goal of starving to death in a morose fashion. This isn't easy though, as you will unwittingly keep blundering into small stashes of food which prolong your misery. You must also take special care not to bump into any pianos, as if you do you will see a cut-scene of Viggo Mortensen crying for thirty minutes (there is no way to skip this scene).