In a bleak post apocalyptic landscape, a man and young boy walk through grey and barren wilderness trying to avoid survivors, robbers, and cannibals on their way to the coast. What happened to this world is never revealed. How could anyone survive and keep their humanity?
The movie opens with the idyllic scenes of a loving couple, Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, enjoying their beautiful home and happy with the upcoming birth of their child. But later, some cataclysm occurs and they are basically housebound trying to survive. Their story is told through flashbacks and dreams of the man as he wanders with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through what is left of the world. The sky is without sun because of the ash that permeates the air. There are no wild animals and no plants for sustenance. They are starving - eating bugs or pillaging for what they can.
There are a few people around, but they are wary and hungry too. Too many Mad Max-type thugs are on the loose, taking advantage of the weak. In one of the most horrific scenes, they come upon a house with a basement full of captive people that are being used as food. They also come across a bomb shelter full of supplies and for a short time enjoy a life as close to normal as the child has yet to experience.
The boy was born into this unfortunate world. His mother committed suicide rather than live with so much suffering and fear. There are only two bullets left in their gun. The man shows the boy how to put the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger if anything should happen. He’s trying to show the boy how to survive without him as he’s coughing up blood and he knows that soon he won’t be there to protect him. At the same time he’s trying to instill a belief in the boy that they are the good guys and they are keeping the fire alive. That is to keep hope and to keep on living. The boy hangs on to this like a lifeline, even after their belongings are stolen. The man strips the robber of his clothes, but the boy brings it back. The most telling scenes of the movie are not so much the unrelenting gruesomeness of their lives, but the small conversations with the old blind man (Robert Duvall) as they struggle with the reality of their existence or the family that offers the boy a chance on the road.
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition) and written by Joe Penhall, they have adapted much of Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 minimalist novel, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I had read it on a vacation to the Canadian Rockies. The book was so devastating I finished it in one night so as not to taint the rest of my holiday. The movie does not retain the horrible images of keeping women pregnant so they can roast their babies on spits for food. Also the story of his wife was expanded in the movie more than it was in the book. The music soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis punctuates the movie with dread and loneliness. In such a dead quiet landscape, it felt like the ashen sky was holding you down. I was waiting for the filmmakers to add a little budding plant so that audience members didn’t walk out too bummed. Why they would make this movie and release it around the holidays? It’s a dark and disturbing film and will stay with you long after the movie ends. (Review by Reesa Cruz-Hawkins)