However, one thing I thought would certainly irk me were the usual Hollywood “liberties” taken with every book-to-film translation. In this instance, I predicted that the role of The Wife would be fattened up in order to lure an actress of Charlize Theron’s caliber to the part. Well, on the one hand I was right: the role is fattened up for the movie, but it’s all meat on the bones, no blubber. And I was certainly surprised by THAT.
What screenwriter Joe Penhall does so brilliantly in his adaptation is to set up a juxtaposition between Man and Wife over the fate of The Boy. Mom believes that what’s best is for the three of them to end it together, peacefully, painlessly, hopefully bound for a better place. Dad, however, can’t give in and is willing to drag them all (literally) across the plains of hell if it means his son’s survival for even a day. In her short moments onscreen, Theron makes a fierce and persuasive argument for The Wife’s point of view, often through her hollowed eyes, and rigid frown, or in her soul-torn pleas to The Man to ‘do the right thing.’
It’s an element of the story that wasn’t as pronounced in McCarthy’s book, and I believe it adds a fantastic dimension to the film. Comparing the philosophies of Man and Wife forces you to constantly wonder and question what is truly best for this child. When The Man and Boy discover the Coca-Cola side of life – when they have smiles on their faces as they share a red can of bubbly, you think to yourself, “A perfect reason to stay alive.” But, when Man and Boy discover a cellar full of filthy, half-eaten prisoners and hear hungry cannibals bearing down on them, you wonder if The Wife didn’t have the right idea – or worse yet, you question what you would do. Whenever The Boy has to witness another horror, you wonder what life he can possibly have – the very question The Wife asked of The Man.
What I especially love about this interpretation of The Road is that it suspends the grand judgment of whether The Man is right or wrong for trying to keep his Boy alive. By the end, we can only hope – never know, just hope – that parent has done the right things for child along the way – and isn’t that really the most our parents can ever hope for us, or that we can ever hope for our kids?
The fact that I’m left with that question after seeing this film lets me know The Road has done its job and honored its source material. I’ll go so far as to say the film deserves consideration come awards season this winter, and I feel no qualms about saying so. It’s a powerful film, a great accomplishment by cast and crew and you shouldn’t miss it. I think even Mr. McCarthy can be proud of this one.
The Road will be in theaters on November 25, 2009.