FIRST LOOK

First Look: Viggo Mortensen in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

by
May 27, 2008
Source: NY Times

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

If you know your cinema, you may vaguely recognize the name Cormac McCarthy. He's the brilliant author whose novel was the basis of the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men. One of McCarthy's other highly praised novels is The Road, which is being adapted this fall by up-and-coming filmmaker John Hillcoat of 2005's The Proposition. The Road is a post-apocalyptic story about a father and his son traveling to the coast in search of safety and rescue. While there is much more to the story than just that, we'll leave the discovery up to everyone on their own. The NY Times today has the first look at the atmosphere of the film, which is key, as well as details from Hillcoat and the two stars: Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Cormac McCarthy's The RoadThe book takes place in a burnt out American wasteland, not long after a nuclear winter has settled in. A father and his son, traveling with only the clothes they are wearing, a pistol for protection, and a cart of scavenged food, slowly make their way down a deserted road in an attempt to get to the coast. They don't know what they'll find there, but at this point, they've got nothing else but each other and the hope that they'll find something at the end that is keeping them alive. NY Times describes the atmosphere best: "The sky is gray, the rivers are black, and color is just a memory. The landscape is covered in ash, with soot falling perpetually from the air. The cities are blasted and abandoned. The roads are littered with corpses either charred or melted, their dreams, Mr. McCarthy writes, 'ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts.'"

One movie that mind come to mind when thinking of what The Road might be like is Mel Gibson's Mad Max. Ideally, to me, it sounds like a combination of The Mist, with its bleak inescapable haze (in The Road it's ash instead), and also, sadly, Neil Marshall's disastrous Doomsday movie, another post-apocalyptic tale. Instead, John Hillcoat assures us its nothing like any of those.

"What's moving and shocking about McCarthy's book is that it's so believable," Mr. Hillcoat said. "So what we wanted is a kind of heightened realism, as opposed to the 'Mad Max' thing, which is all about high concept and spectacle. We're trying to avoid the clichés of apocalypse and make this more like a natural disaster." He imagined the characters less as "Mad Max"-ian freaks outfitted in outlandish biker wear, he added, than as homeless people. They wear scavenged, ill-fitting clothing and layers of plastic bags for insulation.

Cormac McCarthy's The RoadAnother concern, for those who are fans of McCarthy's novel, is how faithful this adaptation will be to the original work. Fortunately, screenwriter Joe Penhall has done a formidable job in staying "extremely faithful" to the story. "The script does enlarge and develop in flashback the role of the man's wife (played by Charlize Theron), who disappears quite early from the novel." However, it "lacks Mr. McCarthy's heightened, almost biblical narrative style," which is thankfully a good thing. Instead, Hillcoat says that some of McCarthy's style and feeling will come from the look, but also from "the nature of the bond between the man and the son," which is made up purely by the performances of Viggo Mortensen as the father and Australian newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son.

The NY Times article continues with a great on-set story about how phenomenal both Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are working together. "Days after the filming of a climactic, emotional scene, people on the set were still marveling at Kodi's performance." Apparently Smit-McPhee has done such a great job that it's caused people on-set to tear up while filming scenes. Mortensen also chimes in with his thoughts on the story and progress.

"It's a love story that's also an endurance contest," Mortensen explains. "I mean that in a positive way. They're on this difficult journey, and the father is basically learning from the son. So if the father-son thing doesn't work, then the movie doesn't work. The rest of it wouldn't matter. It would never be more than a pretty good movie. But with Kodi in it, it has a chance to be an extremely good movie, maybe even a great one."

Based on what I've heard from a friend who is reading this book and this report from the NY Times alone, I'm fairly interested. I'm still not sure what to expect - can a story about two guys traveling down a road in a post-apocalyptic America actually be that interesting? But I suppose there are still many surprises for those like me who haven't yet finished the novel. Considering that both The Mist and Doomsday, two movies that I mentioned The Road reminded me of, weren't that amazing, this has a chance to be an amazing film. We'll be following The Road closely ourselves as John Hillcoat and crew finishes work on the film in time for its Thanksgiving release on November 26th.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road

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  • Pickle
    Cool, but is he still in the running for Sylvester Stallone's "Poe"???
  • Heckle
    Wooohoooo....I got a mention in a FS article. The book is good thus far. Just need to find time to finish it.
  • Curtis
    sounds great, love the end of the world type movies and this has a new spin to it.
  • Ryan
    The book is fantastic, and this could be a really awesome film. One that really pulls at the heart strings. Color me excited.
  • Matt Suhu
    Please elaborate why the lack of McCarthy's heightened, almost biblical narrative style, is thankfully a good thing?
  • http://recoveringsociopath.blogspot.com Sherri E.
    Goodness. McCarthy is a brilliant novelist and The Road is one of his more hopeful novels (not kidding). This is very exciting.
  • Ryan
    Read this book.
  • Derek
    Kodi Smit-McPhee starred with Eric Bana in the Australian film 'Romulus, My Father'. It's a great little movie that you should all see if you can. It gives a glimpse of just how good Kodi is going to be as an actor as he matures.
  • http://www.myspace.com/xxkillislovexx Bridget
    I hope they stay as close to the book as possible. The book is quite gruesome in some points and its the only way i could see the movie being good.
  • Richard
    Wow. This is going straight to the top of my must see/really excited about list.
  • Zach D.
    I am definitely excited about this. Hopefully I can get the book read before the film is released. And according to IMDB, Guy Pearce is in this as well. He was wonderful in Hillcoat's "The Proposition".
  • huckpaletos
    The book is amazing. Catching a glimpse of two lives that are lives with such fury and hope. Really great reading, the kind that'll make your head think and your heart ache. Viggo is a rockin' actor, one of those artists you just KNOW is giving it his 100%. I hope the movie lives up to the book and I hope all the mental images I had of the story jump on that screen. GO READ THE BOOK!
  • chris
    Should be good, The Proposition was a brilliant (if overlooked?) movie. Viggo is on a role (LOTR, History of Violence, Eastern Promises...even Hidalgo was alright!) and i believe 'in the zone' and ready for a major best actor award.
  • huckpaletos
    Anyone saw him (Viggo) in Captain Alatriste? A spanish 'mousquetaire' kinda movie. Real good. The guy is dedicated.
  • http://www.barrynapierwriting.wordpress.com Barry
    If it follows to ohe book, it's going to be slow moving..but I'm still going to see it. And no offense to the author of the article at all, but you should read the book before comparing the movie to Doomsday or The Mist. If the film follows the book, those two comparisons are WAAAAY off. If anything, I'd say it would be similar to...well, I can't think of anything. Maybe "Stand By Me" only with more dead people and the apocolypse...
  • GrandpaJesus
    The Road is a fricking fantastic book. I hugely agree with the guy who says it was McCarthy's most optimistic book too. I am counting the days * sigh *
  • http://pcillu101.blogspot.com danny bloom
    The recent Rolling Stone profile of Cormac McCarthy revealed that he'd been strongly inspired upon hearing a lecture about the effects of a massive comet strike on the Earth. two words: polar cities. google the term. they are the next step down the Road...
  • Nick
    This book has huge potential for the screen...if only the coen brothers would have opted to make it instead of No Country, which was safer, because this would have been a perfect project for them...hopefully Hillcoat can nail the looming feeling of anguish and mental strain that the book gives its readers so beautifully.
  • damouk
    I've read this book 2weeks ago, it just make cry and I still thinking about it. Vigo will just be great I that role !
  • http://pcillu101.blogspot.com Danny Bloom
    After seeing some advance screenings, this is what some critics will say about THE ROAD: "A film that glows with the intensity of Hillcoat's huge gift for movie-making.....Why see this?....Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever see on screen, the movie announces the triumph of hope -- and love -- over nothingness." GUESS WHO WILL SAY THAT? And: other critics will write: A "THE ROAD is a wildly powerful and disturbing movie that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster movies have never felt more physically and spiritually real. Bravo, John Hillcoat!" -- GUESS WHO WILL WRITE THAT? B "The Road is the logical culmination of everything that Cormac McCarthy has written and it's transformation into a Hollywood movie is nothing short of stunning. You come out of the movie theater a changed person. It's that powerful!" C "It's hard to think of an apocalyptic tale as beautifully and hauntingly filmed as this one. The script posses a massive, Biblical cadence and Hillcoat unleashes it on his actors with painterly effect. It will grip even the coldest human heart." D "Devastating. The human predicament has never been more at home, more eloquent than in the sere, postapoca ash land of THE ROAD the movie. Extraordinarly lovely and sad, a Hollywood classic-to-be." and E: "Hillcoast has brilliantly captured the knife edge that fugitives in a hostile world stand on......Amid this Godot-like bleakness on celluloid, the film shares something vital and enduring about the boy's spirit, his father's love and the nature of bravery itself. Hollywood doesn't get much better than this. Be prepared, be very prepared."
  • http://www.bookphilia.com/search?q=road danny bloom
    Wednesday, February 13, 2008 75. The Road http://www.bookphilia.com/search?q=road from bookphilia blogger Cormac McCarthy is, to quote someone I know cyberspacially (to coin a new term, perhaps), "a bitter old man." I've taken a great deal of vicious pleasure in the past by making fun of the first paragraph of his novel Blood Meridian: "See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a pale and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him." This is bad enough but when recited in Earnest Young Poet Voice it becomes truly golden, in an excruciatingly bad sort of way, if you know what I mean. I haven't really felt the need to explore anything else by Cormac McCarthy to justify my scorn for him. This week, however, my husband came home from work with McCarthy's The Road (lent to him by a much-liked coworker), and so I figured it was time to see just how bad this grizzled old man really is with the pen. However, before I say anything else about this novel, I feel like you should know just how much it cost me to read this book. First of all, it's boasting an Oprah's Book Club sticker, which made me want to hide my head in shame from everyone, including myself. That woman has remarkably bad taste in books (with the exception of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance) and I shudder to admit I've read such abuses of thought and paper as her beloved Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. (I will never, ever get those hours and brain cells back - never, never, never, never, never!) Secondly, in McCarthy's post-apocalyptic world, apostrophes are on the verge of extinction while sentence fragments roam the countryside in gangs ruling with a merciless and iron fist. Okay, McCarthy. I get using sentence fragments poetically to create a sort of snapshot of a scene sans commentary, but good lord man, I don't think the 4:1 ratio of fragments to complete sentences is necessary! Here is an excerpt in which this unattractive tendency reaches dizzying heights: "He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it" (p. 130). I read this little excerpt to my husband last night, in Earnest Young Poet Voice of course, and he proclaimed that if he were 17, he would have jumped on me and started humping my leg then and there. I'll leave that up to you to interpret, but I don't think it's a compliment to either McCarthy or 17-year olds. When McCarthy isn't bludgeoning his readers with fragments and incomprehensibly mixed metaphors, he writes more simply and plainly than Hemingway, which puts him at, I'd say, about a grade 10 level of literacy. Bleh. So, clearly, I could take no pleasure in the writing style of The Road, for vicious pleasure can generally only work one paragraph at a time, and not very often. So, I focused on the story because I've always loved a good post-apocalyptic tale. The thing is, there isn't much of a story in The Road. A man and his son (neither of them are ever named) are somewhere in a United States that has been flattened by some kind of nuclear disaster. There's nothing to eat, nowhere to live, and most people are dead. The other people that are alive can't be trusted because most of them have resorted to cannibalism - in one short (and likely unintentional) homage to Jonathan Swift, McCarthy describes the boy discovering a burnt baby on an abandoned spit. The man and the boy walk and walk south, aiming for the ocean. The story consists of their day-to-day struggles and occasional good luck at finding food or clothing. They get to the ocean but there's not much there either. Soon after, the father dies (he's been coughing up blood for a long time), the son starts walking down the road again but another man comes along, convinces him to come with him, and the boy when we last see him is being hugged (not marinated) by a woman with a welcoming bosom. The end. What's this book about then? According to the schmo who wrote the back cover copy, it's about "the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation." God, no wonder Oprah loved it. And really, there's nothing wrong with the idea. It's that McCarthy, god bless him, works very hard to avoid sentimentality (which I can appreciate), but overdoes it and makes the man, the kid, and the situation entirely bereft of character (meaning anything to empathize with). The verdict: I stand by my original assessment of McCarthy and will never allow his books to darken my doorway again. The bleeding horse of sentence fragments. The cramped doubled over pain of a world without apostrophes. Boredom without end. Posted by DreamQueen at 3:01 PM 5 comments Labels: Cormac McCarthy, USA
  • James H
    Hey I have a great idea, let's retell the entire story (ending and all) and not put any spoiler warnings in.
  • FullOfMyself
    I've always been fascinated (I don't know why!) by disaster scenarios in movies and books and 'The Road' is one of the best of the lot. Sorry DreamQueen, but you're off base IMHO. McCarthy's style is riveting and well conveys The Man's almost desperate love for his child and the bleakness such a drastically changed world would offer. I couldn't put the book down once I started reading. It's almost a certainty that Viggo will bring an intensity and passion to his role as 'The Man' that'll blow us away and I look forward to seeing Kodi Smit-McPhee. If he's anywhere near as good as we're led to believe this should be an amazing movie. How could anyone think this premise is boring?
  • Tudor
    I read the book in one night... literally started reading at 10 and finished in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn't put the damn thing down. I'm not sure I want to see the movie I loved the book so much... I went for the walk with those two characters... incredible book. Well worth buying the book... or borrowing it off a friend as I did. :)
  • Mathieu D'Ordine
    Agreed with James H, if you're going to write about the plot, at least respect not only that some people may not have read the book, but that not everyone shares an avid hatred of it. If everyone hated it, true, no one would mind hearing about the ending. Not the case. This could make an impressive movie, or an impressively bad movie. Personally, I think it would take great amounts (perhaps unheard of amounts) of talent to adapt this novel to screenplay, especially if the adapter were to tone down some of the clear violence. Obviously some of it cannot be portrayed in your public cinema without a riot of lawsuits, but it is what it is. Without that, some of the terror and the anguish is forgotten. I really enjoyed this book, but I can understand people being bothered by it (as a few of my friends were). But, will the movie swap audiences? (people who love the book hate it, people who hate the book love it?) I hope not. That would imply Hollywood-ization, and that would be a pathetic thing to do to an un-Hollywood book such as this.
  • J-sta
    The book was awesome! I love these types of stories, but this one was one of the best. Being a father with a son about the age of the child in the book, I felt the primary characters anguish as the story unfolded.... THIS IS A MUST READ!!! If anyone has any suggestion of great post-apocolyptic books like this please blog'em!!! Thanks
  • http://northwardho.blogspot.com/2008/06/time-for-more-you-know-romans-used-to.html Danny Bloom
  • Victor Theofilopoulos
    " read the book in one night… literally started reading at 10 and finished in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn't put the damn thing down." - I agree - just kept turning page after page after page. This book should be read by every single person in our world in order to protect our very existence....Bush's legacy on the world, extremely high oil and especially food prices and the complete purposeful for profit destruction of the environment mean that the few lucky ones of us will attest to in reality the world described in the Road, the rest of us having perished although maybe to perish is more lucky than to live in a post-apocalyptic world. Capitalism has gone awry-capitalism has become totally unethical-its all about money-money-money and destruction of the environment-nothing more nothing less and it seems that with the USA being the pioneer in extreme and unethical capitalism that the whole world is about to go under. The environment is giving us ample warning yet we still choose to ignoe these warning signs.... There does not need to be a nuclear war for what is described in "The Road" to happen - but simply by environmental destruction - hundreds of millions of deaths en-masse will occur leaving a world void of everything........Why can't America just stop its money-culture. America destroyed the Native Americans and is still destroying them, its heritage and the Bush government has created unprecedented and irreversible hate against the USA which will need decades to be reversed all in the name of $$$ - oil companies, banks, gluttony-cultured financial traders, Cheney and his drugs and weapons money etc...etc....etc....The Road will be reality in a matter of 50 years.
  • john of sparta
    Alex, 1. it's NOT a nuclear winter scenario. it could be a comet/volcano/whatever. nobody knows. 2. the revolver (not pistol) with two cartridges (not bullets) is NOT for protection. they're for suicide. although they are used once for protection and leave one. talk about a bitter old man: this book is about superior language and unique style. considering modern movie comparisons: how about Castaway? that's a one man movie. bottom line: this is an all or nothing movie. it's all Right or it's all Wrong. i would enjoy the former.
  • Molly
    Danny Bloom reveals his complete idiocy in his post...Cormac McCarthy is the greatest American writer alive today, and clearly the "bitter old man" is the one who tries to pretend that McCarthy's brilliance is actually just the poetic ramblings of an old Oprah-loving coot. There is no better way to say "I am a bitter, self-important failed writer with an inflated ego and absolutely no grasp of the English language" than to call The Road "boredom without end."
  • http://pcillu101.blogspot.com Danny Bloom
    Molly, THAT was not ME writing that opinion, that was another blogger whose blog i was quoting. I loved the book, I loved ThE ROAD, I think CM is a genius, please read my post above again. I guess I did not clearly demarcate which words were mine and which were the words of that very criticial reviewer. It was NOT ME....... email me off line if you wanna apologize, SMILE danbloom GMAIL You see, Molly, before you pull the trigger and shoot me in broad daylight, read my post above carefully. More carefully. I was quoting this blog: written by bookphilia blogger. That is the person you want to shoot in the foot, not me. SMILE. SIGH. O INTERNET! of INTERNETS!~ Wednesday, February 13, 2008 75. The Road http://www.bookphilia.com/search?q=road from bookphilia blogger
  • Bookphilia
    Some clarifications from the person who wrote the blog post above which is generating so much heat. 1) Danny Bloom cut and pasted my post *without either asking or telling me.* In fact, I just found out today when I got a Google alert; not sure why it never arrived before. When I wrote that post, my blog was, as far as I knew, read only by people I knew personally. Again: I DID NOT POST THIS HERE. Baiting people I don't know isn't my thing. 2) I just didn't like the book. The last time I checked, my dislike of this or any other book was in no way personally directed at anyone else in the world. Similarly, anyone loathing books I love isn't something I take personally. It doesn't even make me assume they're stupid, etc.; it makes me assume they've got different reading tastes than I do, period. And given that I'm, as far as I can tell, one of the only people in the world who didn't like this book, why does anyone care what I think anyway? 3) Given that I didn't post that here, maybe a moderator or someone can delete it?
  • http://northwardho.blogspot.com Danny Bloom
    Dear Bookphila blogger, I got your note via Google alert today, too, and first, let me apologize to you personally. You are right, I should have asked you first if you would agree yes or no to my reposting your review of THE ROAD, which, by the way, although I didn't agree with all of it, I also felt you made some very good points and that your POV was important for others to know about, NOT TO diss you or criticize you, but to open UP people's minds. I don't know Molly and I cannot find her email address, but I don't know why she wrote such an angry, nasty comment. It didn't bother me persoanlly, i could see she was angry at a deep emotion level, so i respect her anger too. And whether he anger was directed at me, falsely, or at the writer of that review, also falsely as she didn't understand the intentions of that good reviewer, she has the right to be angry. At any rate, sir, I apologize to you. It is good Net etiquette to check with the original poster first and you are right. I was wrong to do that, and I apologize. Feel free to email me offline to continue this chat, danbloom GmAIL is where I live most of the time..... In this battle against climate change, and also in the run up to the ROAD movie release, we must all be cordial to each other, as the fate of humanity is at stake. But let me apologzie for hastily reposting YOUR post, without permission. If the mods are reading, yes, please delete all my posts,,,,under my name DANNY bloom or dan bloom above. I agree with Bookphilia blogger. I was out of line. DANNY danbloom GMAIL account
  • runner4peace
    one of the greatest novels ever,ever written
  • lo-ki
    Beyond speculation, Ive some issues with Special Effects/Costumes & Lighting....In these pre-release visual glimpses, the characters still seem, to me, to be too intentionally costumed, too clean tidy & colourful to match the stories bleakness, as well as the landscape & characters depravity. I hope that the final print is released with low hue saturation. Guess I'll just have to wait for DVD & play with the screen settings instead.
  • HunterBear71
    Cormac McCarthy is truly the finest writer alive today. I have to agree that anyone having a real problem with his style is probably jealous or too enamored with what they perceive as proper sentence construction. However, to each his own. But, Blood Meridian is a study in descriptive prose. It is almost universally accepted that McCarthy is the master of modern literature. His prose is melodious and almost biblical. Bitterness was certainly evident in the blog entry that was posted. However, The Road is certainly not a bitter work. While bleak, it is hopeful and quite moving.
  • Ficheye
    DreamQueen: My apologies, but you don't have the faintest, not the tiniest notion of what the hell you are talking about, although you go into great detail about your sorry opinion. This person won a pulitzer prize, which in itself isn't something which instantly validates an author as a genius of historical proportions. But you seem to really hate a book which conveys anything that includes sadness of the spirit in any way. This must have something to do with your childhood, were we to be privy to your therapy sessions. But please give up on your attempts at literary criticism. Stick to graphic novels and the like; you'll be spared from the arduous task of picking up the dictionary on occasion. McCarthy has an astounding depth of knowledge concerning the natural world. He also lapses into a sort of symbolist prose which is very beautiful indeed. But for those who want a 'page turner' that could be related to all hastily consumed goods, don't read this book - and if you do, don't review it. Clearly, there has been some heat about your post. Whether you intended to post it here or not does not take away from some of your 'literary' assertions - which are completely baseless. You could have just said "I didn't care for the book". Back to memorizing Strunk and White for you.
  • dk
    I just have to chime in, particularly in response to DreamQueen's odd dismissal of McCarthy's work, en masse. Having read both Blood Meridian, No Country For Old Men, and The Road, I personally feel that McCarthy is one of the few writers of the past 40 years, along with David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pinchon, and a small handful of others, who have truly changed literature (for the better). There is nothing, in any context whatsoever, that is at or near "10th grade literacy" in this man's work, and the consensus of the whole universe of literary criticism bears this out. The depth of field achieved with the primary themes of Blood Meridian, for one example, is absolutely unmatched in modern fiction. This is a book that manages to marry a fine reduction of the principles of Wittgenstein to a harrowing and beautiful western psychic landscape, and in the meantime tell one hell of a gripping tale. While The Road is considerably more spare in style, it is no less beautiful and absolutely brimming with the author's painstakingly considered intent. If you don't like it, fine. However, dismissing it wholesale smacks of the very same pretension that you seem to accuse McCarthy of, and looks more like envy than criticism. My .02 only, of course...
  • filmguy
    I saw a screening last night outside of DC. I haven't read the book yet, but the film was very good. Probably my second favorite this year after "A Serious Man," the new Coen brothers film. I'm not sure if it'll score a best picture Oscar nomination (I guess that depends on what's left to be released this year), but Mortensen definitely deserves one. Smit-McPhee was excellent as well--heartbreaking, really. It's masterfully directed and shot with a starkness that's rarely seen in major films these days.
  • patrick
    Love this book. "unflinching". Read before movie.

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