The Road Is Missing the Emotions of the Novel


I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road during my move from Texas to Washington, DC. I started at the airport and ended one morning in my bed in DC while my girlfriend was sleeping next to me. It scared me. It wasn’t my first book or film about the end of the world as we knew it. (That would be Mad Max.) But it was the first one to make me truly fear that we could be approaching a time where everyone is forced to fend for themselves. A time where survivors would fear the open road, and who might be on it. It’s a scary thing to fear your neighbor. It’s a scary thing to feel as if cannibalism isn’t the plot device of a horror story, but rather a likely outcome for the weak.

The Road is about a world in decay. A unknown global event has stopped the world, and turned it into a desolate land filled with violent gangs hunting for food while a few innocents struggle just to survive. A man and his son are traveling to the coast for no particular reason. The Man tells The Boy that it will be better at the coast, but they’re moving just to move.

In the novel, Cormac McCarthy created a grey world of pain, sadness, and hopelessness. It’s a world I hope to never see. John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of The Road accurately recreates the visuals of McCarthy’s prose. I felt as if what was in the book had been slapped on the screen. Hillcoat directed a little known film in 2005 called The Proposition. It was an excellent movie about three criminal brothers in the outback of Australia. If you’ve seen the film, you know that Hillcoat was the best director to recreate McCarthy’s devastated world. But the emotional core of the book, and Hillcoat’s previous film, was missing.

The film was surprisingly faithful to the book. Hillcoat was able to include all of the pivotal scenes of the book minus some involving The Boy and The Man. It even extended a few scenes from the book. However, they seemed unnecessary, especially the Charlize Theron scenes as the mother of The Boy, and wife of The Man.

It’s unfair to the film to compare it the book. There are freedoms that exist in novels that don’t exist in film. The ability to easily convey the emotional state, and to expose the innerworkings of a character’s mind are only available in a novel. Since film is a visual medium, everything must be shown from the outside. The film accurately recreates the book so well that had the book not been written, it would have received more credit. This is one film that might actually benefit from another half hour.

Viggo Mortensen as The Man is amazing. Viggo is a great actor. His ability to play weak and meager, yet fearless and cutthroat is unparalleled. See him play both those roles in A History of Violence, and tell me another actor that could have pulled it off as well. The Boy, played by Kodi Smit-Mcphee, was good. I think they missed a lot of opportunities to let the kid step out of the supporting actor role though.

It’s hard to end this. I want so badly to say the film was excellent, and one of the best of the year, but the power of the book haunts me and prevents from saying that. If I did I feel as if  Anton Chigurh might find me.

Bottom Line: As far as Cormac McCarthy adaptations go, The Road is closer to No Country for Old Men than Billy Bob Thornton’s All the Pretty Horses.

Red Beard is a screenwriter, founder of, and contributor to, a blog about movies, TV, literature, music, and food—basically all the important things in life. You can also visit his Facebook page at