I can think of a very few times when I’ve regretted publishing an article. One time that’s high on the list is when I ran a reader review of a test screening of The Road last year. It came in just as I was writing a piece about the film, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t think I’ll ever run another test screening review. Do I think the piece hurt the movie? No. But it probably didn’t help, either.

I want this film, director John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, to be mesmerizing. I hope it is significant. I hope that the factors that pushed the film back from a planned ’08 release were practical issues to be addressed, not deep and irrevocable flaws.

So I’m intrigued by Esquire’s article that calls The Road the most important movie of the year. That’s a big statement. Even if it is overblown, there’s this:The Road is no tease. It is a brilliantly directed adaptation of
a beloved novel, a delicate and anachronistically loving look at the
immodest and brutish end of us all. You want them to get there, you
want them to get there, you want them to get there — and yet you do not
want it, any of it, to end.”

I don’t want to get into summarizing the article, but the gist is that the film does sound like (a) a fascinating example of building a world that is deliberately designed to reject and repel both the characters and audience and (b) the conflicts that result when the time comes to sell that world. Author Tom Chiarella relates how Harvey Weinstein chose one of two trailers as the first ad salvo, and how it features glimmers of an explanation for the post-apocalyptic landscape in which the film takes place.

Explaining the background is directly counter to the spirit of McCarthy’s novel, but is it unavoidable? More important, will it damage the film, which (by many accounts) is unremittingly bleak in it’s depiction of an ashen America? The implication is that Harvey plans to bait and switch; he’s going to sell a version of this movie that doesn’t exist.

Ciarella at least doesn’t sugarcoat the film’s prospects. The Road, a risky, dyspeptic, and serious road movie, will be
easy to lampoon, to dismiss, to skip…Bill Hader is probably writing the
SNL skit right now.” But he paints the film as both a smart, well-considered adaptation of the novel and a determined subversion of established post-apocalyptic conventions. The point being that, rather than warning of a potential future, the film unerringly if poetically depicts a very present now. If that is in fact the case, he may be right.