Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On The Road

This apocalypse shouldn't have been televised

The multi-part review of Tunnels & Trolls will return. I still have a few final topics I want to discuss.

This blog is obviously focused on games and gaming, but occasionally I write about science fiction or fantasy in general. 

Last night, too tired to read or write, I watched the post-apocalyptic film The Road, for the first time.

I couldn't believe how how horrible it was.

The movie is cliched, pretentious, virtually plotless, disgusting, depressing, boring, silly and uninterested in any sort of realism or explanation whatsoever beyond the "stark realism" of, gee, isn't nuclear winter (or whatever it is) rough.

That's quite a profound insight.

There are no names in the movie. There is only Man, Boy, Woman, Old Man, Veteran, Motherly Woman and so on (we know this from the end titles). The post-apocalyptic wherever is so rough that people don't even have names.

Also, even though virtually everyone is dead and there's nothing but old stuff everywhere, there are no shoes nor ammunition to be found. The radiation got it, too, I guess.

Why did the man and his son wait so long (at least as long as the age of the boy - ten years, perhaps) to set out from interior wherever to coastal wherever? Or are they just really slow?

Since all vegetation appears to be dead, and there are no animals or even insects, how did the man and the boy survive for so long?

A few other people seem to have survived for that long through practicing cannibalism, but in order to eat live people, those live people would have had to survive long enough for other people to then eat them. How did they survive for that long? 

Why are the man and his son surprised when they get to the sea and it is not blue? Since everything is gray due to the perpetual cloud clover, what did they expect, Club Med?

Why, dying of starvation but having come across a hidden shelter filled with an almost limitless supply of food, do the man and his son flee after thinking they just might have heard a barking dog?

Now, I suppose some of these questions might have had answers, but the movie makes no attempt to provide them. Such questions and answers are unimportant, the movie makers seem to be saying.

Or, rather, the only answer to these and other questions is that things in this story do not really happen for reasons, nor do people think or behave rationally. Instead, things happen or people think and behave in ways solely calculated to advance the movie's tone. The tone is everything. I got the tone after thirty seconds. But the movie makers wanted to make sure I continued to get it for two hours. Good and hard.

Man and Boy survived for ten years because the movie would have been less compelling if it had been about Man and Infant.

Actually, I think it might have been more interesting and less cliched.

"I love you, son."


The Road is also a deeply immoral movie. Yes, movies can be immoral when they convey immoral messages. Here are a few of them:
When calamities happen, it's a common, rational and even proper reaction for human beings to kill themselves. 
When trying to survive, the most important thing is knowing when to kill yourself. 
If someone you love - your wife, perhaps - wishes to kill herself, do not attempt to stop her. Let her walk away alone into the dark woods.  
When getting ready to make a final stand against bad guys, don't use your gun against them. Rather, point your pistol at your son's head. 
Don't ever try to save kidnapped people from being eaten by cannibals. Put the lock back on the door and run away. 
If you shoot a man (perhaps an innocent man), run away as his wife weeps over his burning corpse. 
If you're one of the last men on earth, don't be kind to strangers, under any circumstances, even if they're old defenseless men who look like Robert Duvall. 
And if you do have second thoughts about the propriety of, say, stripping a man naked in the freezing cold and taking all his belongings, make it up to him by leaving his clothes in a pile, miles away (where it's unclear if he will ever find them), topped with a small can of fruit. Do not include a can opener. 
If you love someone who has died - in this case, your wife - show that love by throwing your wedding ring and her picture into a river. 
And so on. 
Teach these things to your son.
Oh, I know, the movie isn't saying that people should behave this way. It's just showing you how two people - Man and Boy - did behave, because, you know, apocalypse.

Live is tough and then you shoot your son.

As an antidote to this awful film, read any Golden Age or even New Wave science fiction story about people trying to survive an apocalyptic event. True, the heroes of these stories are not always moral paragons (which, of course, in and of itself is fine), and the moral messages are often odd - consider, for example, the creepy pro-incest banter in Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold - but at least these are stories with interesting characters and plots, and the authors try to model actual behavior, or at least interesting behavior.

I recommend Fritz Leiber's short story, A Pail of Air.

Compared to The Road, Thomas Disch's hopeless The Genocides is a joyous walk in a beautiful park.

If you're flipping around on Netflix and encounter The Road, don't do it.

You want a bleak tail of people trying to survive a grueling trek through gray and rainy woods? Watch The Barkley Marathons.

Crossposted at Mahound's Paradise.


  1. The major mistake the film made was having The Boy be too old. The character is much younger in the novel and much of the confusion fades with a shorter timeframe.

    You managed to miss the message in all the grey. It's a tale about hope. Not about optimal action and decissions, not about the right choices at the right time but by being motivated by hope and having nothing but hope.

    If you want to watch a story about hope in a hopeless world The Road gets the job done.

    1. I understand, but I just don't see it. Why is it about hope - because the lead characters don't die in the first five minutes and try to prolong their lives a bit longer before putting a bullet in their mouths? That's hope?

      I knew I would mildly ruffle a few friendly feathers with my quasi-review.

      One of the most interesting things about talking about The Road or Cormac McCarthy in general is how disagreement on the issue completely ignores typical political, ideological or other categories. In other words, there are many people whom I agree with 90% of the time on gaming, politics, religion or what have you that I feel are completely wrong on this one. I suppose that's sort of refreshing.

      I've already had many people (on Facebook, Google+, etc.) say that I missed the message, although, frankly, each person seems to have a different message in mind. That fact alone is weird, I think. It's as if people are looking for reasons to like it.

      For my part, though I don't like what I have read of or about McCarthy, I was fairly open-minded going in to the film. I wasn't looking for anything positive or negative. So I was honestly surprised that I hated it so much. Maybe I was in a bad mood.

    2. My father who is about as grim and dark as a persn can be without being frightening found the book far too bleak and couldnkt finish it. That alone made me want to read the book. I found the film adaptation faithful (aside from The Boy being too old) far more than most film adaptations of novels. I've seen people accuse McCarthy being a cynical to the point of parody in presentation of a world seemingly beyond hope but I feel that's because they expect a genre piece that plays to tropes. There was no hope in staying put so The Man risked the road to find hope.

      As for leaving the shelter because they heard the barking dog: anyone able to keep a dog alive in that world was dangerous to the father as the very presence of the dog showed a competence that in that setting seemed to be lethal to The Man. I know how I'd deal with a stranger hiding in a bomb shelter in that situation, it isn't pretty and I like to think I'm one of the good guys.

    3. Argh. Take a number and get in line. :)

      But your father gets a pass and perhaps a medal. At least I know I'm not alone.

      It's not that I'm against bleak books per se. 1984, for example, is as bleak as they come, but I feel that the characters are real and do real things. The bleakness is merely a consequence of the situation, not an overall attempt to trump every other consideration. If that makes sense.

      And to me, it's The Road that plays to a trope. I don't think that my favorite post-apocalyptic "genre" pieces play to anything, necessarily, other than applying intelligence, good writing and good storytelling to admittedly bleak situations.

      On Facebook, one of my friends said he would have styled me as a Cormac McCarthy fan. Talk about a low blow.

  2. Good film which drains off all the romantic eye wash splatted over the word apocalypse.
    Go and look at the fashion department for your eye wank.

  3. Another vote for "A Pail of Air" ... brilliant post-apocalypticism that I had the good fortune to read in Grade 7 or so. In the school library, no less!