Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"Each Night Is Darker-Beyond Darkness": The Environmental and Spiritual Apocalypse of the Road (2009)

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"Each Night Is Darker-Beyond Darkness": The Environmental and Spiritual Apocalypse of the Road (2009)

Article excerpt

The Journey to The Road

Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker-beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the planet slowly dies. No animals have survived. The crops are long gone.

-The Man, The Road (2009)

John hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road (2006) is one of a succession of eco-apocalyptic films to have emerged from Hollywood in the last decade; it joins the likes of The Day after Tomorrow (2004), Children of Men (2006), and Avatar (2009) to name but a few. These films are arguably as connected to the turbulent geopolitical climate of the first decade of the new millennium as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Night of the Living Dead (1967) were to the Cold War ideologies of the 1950s and 60s. This article regards the proliferation of science fiction films with such an ecological focus as an expression of the prevailing fears concerning the apparent deteriorating environmental status of the planet, alarm at rapidly diminishing resources, and the fear that society has reached what many regard as some sort of ecological and moral tipping point from which there might be no return. Jared Diamond, the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, has written,

Many people fear that ecocide has now come to overshadow nuclear war and emerging diseases as a threat to global civilization. The environmental problems facing us today include the same eight that undermined past societies, plus four new ones: human-caused climate change, build up of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity. Most of these twelve threats, it is claimed, will become globally critical within the next few decades: either we solve the problems by then, or the problems will un- dermine not just Somalia but also First World societies. (7)1

McCarthy and Hillcoat's narrative in The Road concerns itself with many of these particularly timely matters in a variety of ways: portray- ing not only issues of climate change and resource scarcity, but also species eradication and ultimately the possible extinction of the human race itself. The novel on which the film is based became a publishing phenomenon on its release in 2006, a critical and commercial behemoth, culminating in its author, Cormac McCarthy, being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Shortly after the book's release, Nick Wechsler, who had produced Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and 25th Hour (2002), acquired the rights to the film. Wechsler understood that the bleak (a word that almost every review of the novel and film seems contractually obliged to contain) and unconventional nature of the material would make a successful adaptation difficult:

There were other people who made offers, but they weren't large, because they were afraid of the material, obviously. It's very dark stuff. I simply responded to the book. I had no idea that it was going to gain the momentum that it did, become that talked about, that it would win the Pulitzer, get on Oprah. All of a sudden, I could see this was very precious to people, that there was a kind of public trust associated with this book. And we felt incredible pressure on delivering the movie that we felt would be a valid adaptation. (qtd. in Chiarella)

Wechsler turned to John Hillcoat, who had directed the well-received film The Proposition (2005), a poetic and violent Australian outback Western heavily influenced by the writings of both Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy him- self. With Viggo Mortensen cast in the role of the unnamed Man and Kodi Smit-McPhee cast as the Boy, the film began shooting in Febru- ary 2008 with a modest budget of $20 million dollars.2 Principal photography ended on May 2008, and a release date was scheduled for November of the same year. When that date came and went with no sign of the film, official sources stated that the reason was the need to finalize digital effects and other postproduc- tion work; however, many speculated that the Weinstein Company did not quite know what to do with a film that would later be described by many reviewers as "disturbing" (Roddick 33) and frequently "horrific" (Travers). …

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