This has been on my to watch list for a while now, I’m not a massive apocalyptic fan, however after enjoying The Book of Eli (which I would highly recommend, Denzel Washington is fantastic as a man on a mission to get to the coast through an apocalyptic wasteland, with many of the same themes as this film), and a recommendation from a friend, I sat down and gave it a watch.
To give a bit of background, this film is an adaptation of book written by Cormac McCarthy in 2006, a twisted tale of a man and his son as they travel across America, after some unknown apocalypse, and their struggle against both the environment and the people left in it. From what I’ve read, it seems the film is slightly softer than the book, certainly in parts, however I can’t comment on that personally having not read the book myself, so I won’t be making any more comparisons between the two.
Once again, I think the casting was very good, Viggo Mortensen plays the unnamed man, and he plays it very well, he has the haggard, dirty look you’d expect from a man living in the wilderness, struggling on a daily basis for food and warmth, all the while caring for his child. Yet he also shows his determination, as he will do anything, and sometimes commit acts you wouldn’t think possible for someone in his state, all in order to protect his son. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the son, presumed to be 10-12 years old, and he does a good job of showing the confusion, the uncertainty, and most of all, the fear of almost everything around him. There are several flashback sequences in which you see Charlize Theron as the mother, who is pregnant when the apocalypse happens, showing how long Viggo’s character has survived.
The scenery is very similar to other post apocalyptic films, with the various shades of grey and broken, abandoned buildings all around. The pair are seen going through supermarkets, hoping to find some food, throwing money aside (it now being worthless), all of their possessions residing in a trolley which goes with them everywhere.
From the offset the father is reassuring the son that they are in fact the good guys, and that they must always be on the lookout for bad guys, people looking to hurt them, such as the gangs trawling the countryside hoping to find fresh meat, since cannibalism has become rampant. There is an incredibly sobering scene in which the father double checks that the son knows what to do with the gun if the bad guys were to get to them, even goes through the action of putting it in his mouth and firing. It’s clear that the gun, with only 2 bullets left, is the most important item they have, since the father knows that a swift death is better than whatever fate may otherwise befall them in the captivity of a gang. The relationship between father and son is obviously strained, being in such a harsh environment, and the film is always making the viewer question, what would I do in that situation, would I side with the child, who still sees the good in everything, or the father, whose desire to protect his son has potentially cause his judgement to stray, making the son worry whether they are becoming the very bad guys they are scared of.
The film has numerous heart in your mouth moments, as the pair are hiding over a mound, mere metres from an armed gang searching the area, and the chase that follows, you can really feel the fear, and I found myself leaning towards the screen as though from pure thought I could urge them to run faster. There are some scenes which really show the horror that living in that environment involves, including finding a cellar of people, being farmed, ready to be eaten, and mentions of putting them in the smokehouse really hit home when you realised it’s people they’re talking about.
The pair meet several other travellers on their journey, and it’s the pair’s different reactions towards them which really shows the brutal environment they are being forced live in. And you can only feel a mixture of sorrow and pity as the film goes on, and you see the changes coming over them, one of the most poignant of which was the father’s reaction to a thief, and his treatment of him when he catches him up. You can see the thief is terrified, just as they are, and meant them no harm, but was merely looking out for number one, which is exactly what they are doing, much to the son’s disapproval.
- Excellent casting, with some brilliant performances
- A storyline which really draws you in
- The setting as a whole may not be enjoyed by all
Should you watch it?
Yes. Well, obviously it’s not that simple: it’s not a fun family film, nor is it for those who aren’t fans of serious films. However I would recommend it to anyone, as it shows what a good storyline and cast can do, they can make you feel for the characters, you cry when they cry, you smile when they smile, you would do anything to see them succeed. It’s a film which took me through highs and lows, and left me emotionally drained, but I don’t regret watching it at all.