Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On The Road

This apocalypse shouldn't have been televised

I posted this quasi-review on my gaming blog Save Versus All Wands, yesterday. But I'm going to crosspost it on Mahound's Paradise as I think it has relevance to the sorts of issues that are often discussed here - those regarding the culture of life (vs. the culture of death), among others.

I've already been involved in a fair amount of back and forth on this in the Save Versus All Wands comments and on Google+ and Facebook, and it is already clear that I hold a distinctly minority opinion. I sort of expected that, but what's interesting to me is how disagreement about The Road in particular and Cormac McCarthy in general seems to be completely independent of typical "ideological" lines. People who I usually agree with on gaming and/or politics or religion hold radically different opinions on this one. I suppose that's refreshing but it's also slightly annoying, at least in so far as I feel that almost everyone else in the world is wrong (and I'm right - howling into the wind or the nuclear winter clouds or whatever).

To take one example, I implicitly argue below that the movie is sort of anti-life (because it's a bit creepy about suicide). But one pro-life commenter claimed that the film is about as pro-life as any film could be.

I do think that people seem to read into the movie what they wish (I do not exempt myself from that). And this is perhaps due to the somewhat abstract nature of the setting and story. In the comments section on the first blog, one commenter praised the film for its "hope." But another praised it for its unflinching and unromanticized view of a post-apocalyptic world (I took that as saying that there isn't a lot of hope).

I feel like I should add more to the text to make a better case, but realistically, I'm not sure that would help convince anyone. For the sheer masochism of it, I'll probably write a separate post on how Cormac McCarthy is completely overrated. One of the foremost defenders of that position is B.R. Myers, a Green Party, vegan, animal rights guy. Life is interesting and diverse.


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 Save Versus All Wands.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I agree, it's boring and tasteless.

    People see what they want to see in it because it's like looking at an ink blot. It's essentially a trailer that lasts two hours without the production music or editing. Artsy in a vapid, bubblegum-chewing-when-you're-hungry sorta way.