By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The theological ambiguity underlying “The Road” (Dimension) is highlighted by a scene set in a ruined church.
As the two main characters in this moving but relentlessly grim post-apocalyptic drama take shelter in the abandoned sanctuary, alert viewers will note that, although its artwork is in shreds and its altar has been displaced, a cross-shaped window shines above the wayfarers with a light virtually absent from every other environment they — and we with them — have encountered.
That’s about as much hope as this dystopian tale holds out in chronicling the desperate journey through a devastated America of a father, identified only as The Man (a mesmerizing Viggo Mortensen) and his son, called only The Boy (fine newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Traveling on foot along what’s left of the interstate highway system, some years after the unspecified cataclysm that destroyed both the ecology and civilization, the pair encounter marauding cannibals, crafty thieves and a few shell-shocked survivors — most notably The Old Man (Robert Duvall), an aged, nearly blind prophet figure pondering the meaning or unmeaning of it all — on their way to what they hope will be a marginally better life along the coast.
Occupying the pitted no-man’s-land between a Samuel Beckett play and “The Road Warrior,” director John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a stark examination of one man’s efforts to preserve, and pass on, humane values — to “carry the fire,” as Joe Penhall’s script terms it — a labor in which he is refreshed only by the instinctive goodness of his youthful companion.
Yet, in the excess of his love, the father indulges in a quasi-idolatrous exultation of the boy that, like the borderline-blasphemous sentiments expressed by other characters, would be completely unacceptable in a less extreme context.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains complex moral and theological issues, grisly images, cannibalism and suicide themes, rear and brief partial nudity, a few uses of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.