Tim’s Storydome: The Road

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“We carry the fire…”

In a world that has been decimated by some unnamed apocalypse, a father and son travel south in order to find a better life. Cold and starving for much of their journey, they cross through bleak landscapes and avoid roaming bands of cannibals all to find a safe haven that likely does not exist.

Storydome returns with two epically powerful stories. Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel takes on its award-winning film adaptation. Two stories enter, one story leaves when The Road steps into the Storydome.

The Contenders

The Book
Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Published: 2006
Pages: 256
 
The Movie
Title: The Road
Director: John Hillcoat
Released: 2009
Length: 113 Minutes
Starring: Viggo Mortensen as man
Kodi Smit-McPhee as boy
Charlize Theron as woman
 

It should go without saying. There are SPOILERS ahead.

A father and son make their way south in a post-apocalyptic world in order to survive the coming winter. With all of their worldly possessions stuffed into a shopping cart, the two head out onto the road. There is no electricity, no vehicles, none of the conveniences that we have today; they are all gone. The father has no reason to believe that things will be better in the south, but if there is even a chance that there could be a better world there for his son, he is willing to make the journey.

Cold and hungry for much of their journey, the father and son avoid people at all costs because people are the biggest threat to their survival. The father constantly tells his son that they are the good guys and that they “carry the fire” for a better world. Along the way the two encounter “roadagents,” packs of roaming cannibals, and when one of them goes after the son, the father shoots that man in the head. This event could be described as the most “pleasant” encounter the father and son have with cannibals, because over the course of the story they will come across storage rooms of people being held for feeding, and even a newborn skewered over a fire.

All of this horror has a very traumatizing effect on the son and he either does not speak for days afterwards or will ask his father questions about what is happening. Their arrival at the southern coast can best be described as anti-climactic. The coast offers much of the same, and with nowhere else to go the father succumbs to his illness and dies. Before he dies, he assures his son that he can always talk with him in his mind. After he has been mourning his father for three days, a family comes upon the son. They invite the son to come with them, and assure him that they are the good guys, and that they too carry the fire.

That may be the most inadequate summary of The Road, but it will have to do. There is so much of this story that is lost in any summary, and my time would be better spent on the fight breakdown.

Let’s begin with the novel. I actually had to read this novel twice. The first time it was a very slow read as I tried to deal with the enormity of the bleakness of the world that the story took place in. Empty, desolate, and grey would all work as adjectives too, but I find bleak to be the most accurate. My first read had me thinking that this was just a depressing story with depressing people set in a depressing world, and that just made me feel depressed. I knew that there was more to this story though, and I realized that what kept me reading was this relationship between the father and son.

During my second reading I realized that this is a horror story, but with very human characters. You feel for these two characters, and you understand that even though they are the good guys they can’t stop to help some people who are worse off than they are. During my second read there were many times when I wanted to keep reading, but at the same time I knew what came next and I didn’t want to read on. To me, that’s a sign of an author creating fantastic characters: wanting to stop reading to save the characters from the rest of the story. I know that may not make sense to some people — the characters are written so well that you want to stop reading? But there have to be a few people who know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you don’t then you need to read The Road.

The movie does not differ too greatly in terms of content, with the exception of making the character of ‘the woman’ more prominent. But I think that might have more to do with the casting of Charlize Theron than anything else. And speaking of casting, I can’t imagine a more perfect casting decision than Viggo Mortensen as the father. He is able to portray a figure that is both very hardened and very loving. For me, though, the thing I loved about the movie was seeing the world. I had my ideas about what this kind of world would like, but I preferred the movie’s ideas over my own. There was one hang-up I had about this movie, which is that it seemed like the main characters were detached from the audience. That may only be in comparison with the novel, though. In the novel, it seems as if you are a part of this journey with the father and son, but in the movie it is more like you are following them in this journey. It’s a small difference, and maybe it’s just one of those things that film will never be able to do on the same level as literature. But that’s what decided this fight for me.

Winner of Storydome: The novel, via a close decision.

There were certain moments in the book that made me feel uncomfortable, but I believe that is because as a reader I was wholly immersed in this world. I didn’t enjoy the parts about the cannibalism, but I understand that the reason I didn’t enjoy them is because I wouldn’t enjoy that situation in real life. McCarthy’s novel does such an amazing job of engrossing the reader that the physical reaction you have reading certain parts is likely very similar to the reaction you would have if you were unfortunate enough to live these events. I didn’t quite have that kind of reaction to the movie, but that might have to do with reading the novel before seeing the movie. I was prepared for it.

Anyway, maybe make The Road the next novel you read. It’s that good. And, while you’re at it, see the movie.

Disagree with my assessment? Let me know about it in the comments section.

I’ll be back next week, as a new story steps into the ring.

— Tim Fitzpatrick, Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: Tim Fitzpatrick is an English major at Lewis University with a focus on creative writing. Tim is 26 and is only just now starting college. He has always enjoyed telling a good story, and he is at Lewis to learn to do that better.

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