The long-awaited theatrical adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s grim but gripping novel is due to open on November 24th in the US. Reviews and previews of the film are mixed if you do a simple google search. Some go so far as to say it is a terrible film, just a series of scenes clipped together, and lays fault at the feet of the director and screenwriter. They criticize the actors portraying the two main characters, Viggo Mortensen (The Man) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Boy) as being badly cast and delivering marginal performances.
On the other side of the spectrum one reads that the movie is “the most important film of the year” and is glowing in its description of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee’s performances.
This writer will wait to see the movie, which she plans on doing with two friends who find it impossible to stay away from anything involving Mr. Mortensen. One of these friends has dubbed Mr. M “the thinking woman’s hunk.”
Filmed in winter on location in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Louisiana, the filming required an environment that reflects the total devastation of the earth from a cataclysmic event the book does not define. It does not need to define it, because the event is not the story. The story is the relationship between The Man (father) and The Boy (son) as they attempt to survive in a world where there is no sunshine, no vegetation, no wildlife, no clean water, no safe place to stay, and no point to go on living except that small chance that somewhere, if you walk far enough, you will find a place where the devastation did not reach and a civil society still exists. They live in fear of roaming gangs who have survived by capturing and enslaving anyone left living and eating them limb by limb. They can trust no one.
I had no intention of ever reading this novel. Our book club at work decided to read it, but I opted out as the description left me thinking “why in the world would I want to immerse myself in something so dismal as that?” But when the group was done with the book, it was announced that Viggo Mortensen was set to play the lead. That tidbit made me take a second look.
Mortensen is one of those actors who has flown under the radar of fame (until the huge success of The Lord of the Rings took him to another level) in my opinion, because he becomes the character he is playing instead of playing himself. So within a few pages of the book I knew this role was made for him. He was perfect for it because he is the one actor who could become The Man convincingly. His propensity for living in the skin of his characters is well-documented. He has been in many roles that demanded a lot of him physically and emotionally, and often required him to work in terrible weather and grubby clothes for long weeks at a time.
He is also a dedicated father of a grown son, and that works in his favor as the father-son relationship is the central piece of the story. The Man’s main purpose in life is to protect his son, not just from physical danger but from losing hope and becoming one of the bad guys. They were “carrying the fire” of hope and humanity as if they were the only ones left on earth who still could.
I nearly gave up on the book twice. I was literally afraid to turn the page at times in anticipation of what might be about to unfold. Indeed some of the images were too awful to imagine.
But the book has a satisfying ending, and the story stayed with me for months because I live in the part of Pennsylvania where the winter landscape looks just like the devastated world of the novel. Every day I would drive to work and look at the bare trees on the hillsides and the gray sky and think, my God, what would it be like if that’s all there was to the world? At least I know those trees are going to turn green again in a few weeks. It made me shudder to think how easily the world could devolve into every man for himself in such a scenario. And I can understand how some in the book chose to end their lives rather than struggle to survive when there seemed to be no hope.
Very few books or films have had such an effect on my psyche. Whether the director and screenwriter did justice to the novel’s central theme is yet to be revealed and will be a matter of opinion to each viewer. But I find it difficult to believe that Mortensen’s performance will be anything less than inspirational. I already watched the preview as I read the book – putting him in the role made it possible to keep on reading. I am confident he will deliver on the big screen as well.