I was at Barnes & Noble with my brother-in-law over the Thanksgiving holiday and we had a rare moment of simpatico upon stopping at the promotional standee for Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
"Good fucking book", I offered to my typically crusty companion.
"Good fucking book", he concurred.
Just then, some nerdy, faux intellectual dipshit materialized from behind one of the many shelves stocked to the gills with Twilight and oh so cleverly insisted that devouring McCarthy's prose from the novel was like reading off of granite.
We smiled at the smug douchebag and resumed our continuous and growingly bitter argument over taxation and entitlement programs. He's a Randroid Libertarian so I'll let you guess where his stance begins. At the tip of my alleged Maoist/statist nose apparently. It's funny how care and empathy dissonantly equate to Stalinism in the minds of many these days.
But it was Thanksgiving and all is to be forgiven between friends and family.
And then I got to thinking about that obtrusive Lit major and what he said about granite.
Fuck me ... he was absolutely right.
McCarthy's words did seem like they were etched in granite. A bleak, ominous, weather beaten warning carved in the rock for fellow travelers who happened by.
But it was not McCarthy's cautionary message or end-time exhortations which made my blood run cold. Rather, as with all novels that I love and weep over, what I really was afraid of was what Hollywood was going to do to the story.
I needn't be so mistrusting all the time.
They got this one right. In a big, big way.
The first inspired move was getting Aussie John Hillcoat to direct. Relatively unknown, particularly in Tinseltown circles, Hillcoat was the stinking genius who delivered a savage little ditty called The Proposition back in 2005. A brutal, bloody tale of justice, bounty hunting and moral relativism set in the dusty Outback of the late 19th century. It also happens to be one of the best films of the last ten years. Hillcoat's beautifully rendered depiction of the unforgiving climate mixed with the often feral miscreants and outlaws who occupy it surely gave someone the idea that the director could easily realize McCarthy's gray, post-apocalyptic ash heap of a world. One just as merciless and similarly populated with very bad, very desperate people.
The next good move was keeping their hands off the story and not second-guessing the intelligence of the film's audience in order to make it more palatable for the aesthetically challenged masses who swarm our movie theaters and control our film product.
The script is very close to the novel. Thanks to a frill-free adaptation from Joe Penhall.
And the film is a perfectly paced monster - disturbing, touching, thought provoking, horrific, dour, funereal, deliberate and gray, gray, gray.
The role of the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is well cast, averting the damage that child actors nearly always inflict on projects. Viggo Mortensen is grimly appropriate as the boy's father, a man trying to salvage what is left of his humanity and an uncertain future for the son he selfishly brought into the already brewing hellstorm of a dying world.
I left the theater emotionally exhausted after this film. Snow had begun to fall outside and looking through the cineplex's windows into the slate hued sky with the dead grasses and asphalt of a New Jersey strip mall as my landscape, I got a little sense of what McCarthy's desolation was all about. And perhaps what would happen if Libertarians ever control national policy.
I approached a couple in the lobby who were looking at the promotional standee of The Road and whispered, "Hey, it's just like watching ash fall on granite."