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    The Road: Book and Movie

    At this year's Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most talked about films was The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.  I reviewed the Road in this post, having never read the novel, and only seeing it due to the buzz surrounding it, and the fact that it was a Science Fiction film at TIFF.  I enjoyed it, and would put it in one of the top films that I saw at this year's festival.

    The Road was the most asked about film that I saw, often due to the number of people who had read the novel and had loved it.  Since seeing the film, I've listened to an audiobook version of the Road, and felt like writing a little comparison of the two.  As a warning, this discussion might contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

    I enjoyed both the film and book versions of the Road.  They both create a world of loss and disaster, but great imagery created through the descriptions in the novel, or through the grainy images in the movie.  And they both do a great job of focusing on the relationship between the father and son characters (whose names we never learn in either version).

    The important similarities:

    • Tone - The tone of the film and the book are very similar.  You get a feeling that there isn't much left in the world after some sort of disaster that has blocked out the sun, has prevented plants from growing, and created an unstable earth.
    • Focus on after the disaster, not the disaster itself - This film is not about the disaster that occurred (wait until the film, 2012, if you want to see that), but it is about what happens after the disaster.  The disaster could have been a massive natural disaster, or meteor impact, or it could have been human produced in the form of a full scale nuclear assault, or any number of things, but as an audience or as a reader, we never learn these things, leaving us to focus on what happened after the disaster.
    • The relationship between the father and son - This relationship stayed largely the same.  A father who would do anything for his son, and anything to keep him alive.
    • The scene with the man who stole their stuff - This is an important scene, as it is the only time in the novel where the father is genuinely angry at another person who didn't directly threaten their lives.  Although this man stole all of their stuff while they were sleeping, he didn't hurt them while they slept.  The film is similar in this regard, as it's important to see the differences between the innocence of the boy (wanting to leave the man with something) and the hardened attitude of the father (not caring about a man who would have left them to die).

    The important differences:

    • What happened to the boy's mother - In the film, what happened shortly after the disaster, and what happened to the mother is addressed in explicit flashbacks, where it is made pretty clear what happened to the mother.  There is no ambiguity, and no confusion as to what happens (unless the argument is made that since these flashbacks are all likely in the father's dreams, it is possible that the actual events might have been different).  In the novel, the dream / memories are more ambiguous, but get the exact events across nicely.
    • Cutting parts of scenes, but not whole scenes - There is a scene in both the novel and the film where the father swims out to an abandoned boat to see if there are supplies that they might need.  In the novel, he does this twice, and we have descriptions of his experiences on the boat, but the film has him swimming there and swimming back.  Cuts like this happen in a few other places, and I think it is for the better, as otherwise, the film would have been too long.

    The "why would they change that" differences:

    • Focus on getting the boy ready for a life without the father - The novel is all about getting the boy ready for when the father dies.  He knows he's dying, and so he wants to make sure his son can survive on his own without him.  The film doesn't seem to focus on this, and seems mainly to focus on the father taking care of the son (and having a much shorter temper with his son than in the novel).
    • Swimming to the boat - In the novel, the swim to the boat goes off without a hitch, and later, as the boy and the father slept, their belongings were stolen from them.  In the film, as the man goes to the boat, the boy drifts off to sleep, and their belongings are stolen.  This is a weird difference to me, as the novel lays blame on the father for not paying attention (he should be caring for the two of them), and the son saves the day by finding the evidence to track the thief.  But the film lays the blame entirely on the son for falling asleep.  If the point of story is to get the boy ready to live on his own, then this scene in the film shows that the boy is not ready.
    • The flare gun scene with the arrow - In both the film and novel, the father is shot by an arrow, and fires back on the shooter with a flare gun.  The film has it that he killed a man with the flare gun, who was probably just as desperate as the father and son were.  The novel has it where he just scared them away.  Yes, the novel left it more open-ended, and the film didn't want to leave any loose threads, but I thought the novel was more appropriate for keeping the man likeable.

    Some final thoughts on the film:

    • Actors credited as being in the film - Viggo and the boy are in the film throughout, and Charlize Theron has a decently sized role as the mother, but Robert Duvall is in the film for only a few minutes, and Guy Pierce doesn't appear until the last 4 minutes or so.  I did not even realize that it was Guy Pierce until I saw the poster.

    I do recommend reading the novel, and watching the film.  They are both great stories, and create a world that I hope to never see in real life, but is fascinating to visit as an observer for a short time.