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The Road – How Does The Cormac McCarthy Book Compare To The Movie?

the road cormac mccarthyNine times out of ten, I will say that a book is better than the movie that it inspires. I’m planning on reversing this trend when I write a novelization of Roadhouse which will be, unbelievably, even more awesome than the movie. Picture that. But in the case of the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the difference between the film and the novel is different in every way that matters to me. This is hard to explain if you haven’t read any of McCarthy’s books–love him or hate him, I find his book utterly unlike anything else, even though it does not investigate any new themes that I can think of–seriously, are there any?–or explore a new scenario.

And that’s my main trouble with the movie. It’s definitely got style, the score is beautiful, and the acting by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-Mcphee is wonderful. Charlize Theron is also great in her few scenes. But–this is not a movie that needed a Cormac McCarthy novel behind it. Without his name attached to it it would have been just another “End of the world” film for me.

I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy the movie, but what is there to enjoy in a film about a father and son walking along a road in an apocalyptic America where the sun never comes out and finding an apple is cause for joy? Toss in some of the most melancholy scenery of all time and a spare piano soundtrack that deserves the word “haunting” if any piece of music ever has, and–well, no, it’s not really enjoyable. It’s beautifully made, definitely had a big budget, and I can’t find any flaws in the craftsmanship. That said, it’s replay value for me is zero. Unlike, the book, which I suspect I’ll read 20 more times in my life.

I’m trying to have it both ways, but if Cormac McCarthy can take an idea as common as the aftermath of a global disaster and make a dystopian novel out of it that feels unlike any other, part of me wants the filmmakers to make a film that feels just as unique, or to leave it alone. And I know Hillcoat (the Director) is capable of this very thing. His wonderful Australian western The Proposition was an unique a piece of cinema as I’ve ever seen. Although, throwing Nick Cave into the mix as the writer certainly rules out any chances of sameness.

For the most part, the events from the book are all in place in the film. The only time I got sucked out of the movie was when Robert Duvall showed up and all I could think of was “There’s Robert Duvall!” No, there were two times, because Omar from The Wire also had a cameo.

The book was bleak and unforgettable when I closed it. The movie merely depressed me and made me vaguely wish that I had watched something else that night.

I suppose I’m saying that I don’t think anyone could have done the movie any better. I’m just wondering if anyone has any business adapting McCarthy’s books for the screen, No Country For Old Men being a welcome exception. I loved that film and it certainly didn’t feel like any other movie I can think of. And now Blood Meridian is being adapted, a book which creates a mood and atmosphere that I think a film is totally incapable of replicating.

I’ll leave it at that. Did anyone watch The Road and just love it?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Logan Christopher January 25, 2011, 9:20 pm

    I agree with you Josh. The movie was kind of just depressing. I enjoy movies that can be downers but this was just not really enjoyable to watch.

    While the book was similar at the same time it was more awesome. I’m gonna have to read Blood Meridian one of these days soon.

  • Amanda January 26, 2011, 4:11 am

    I haven’t seen the movie yet. We bought the DVD about 6 months ago, after I’d read and loved the book.

    Unlike so many others, I found that The Road was a book that left me with a renewed faith in the human spirit. Others find it bleak and oppressing.

    I didn’t. There is hope in those pages. Mucho hope.

    Perhaps only those of us who’ve been to hell and back in their real lives can see it.

  • David Cain January 26, 2011, 6:34 am

    I loved the book, but when I saw the movie I started to think maybe I didn’t.

  • John January 26, 2011, 7:27 am

    I read the book on the recommendation of a friend. He told me that any father with a son needed to read this book (which I agree with, but think that is a narrow view of who would appreciate the book). I can’t remember the last time I was so moved by a book.

    I have yet to see the movie. I have a feeling that I will read the book again (and again) before I see the movie for the first time.

  • Boris January 26, 2011, 8:38 am

    “Loved” the movie. “Loved” the book. I don’t think I’ll watch the movie, nor read the book ever again.

  • Eric Owen Williams Jr January 27, 2011, 8:07 pm

    I wish i were cooler, but i am not. Actually, i do not wish that. I suppose i was turned onto McCarthy at the right time by the right people, which is to say 2007 and the Coen brothers.

    I have not seen The Road and i may not until it presents itself to me. The book depressed me, and though it was a real fast read [Pulitzer award winner finished in like a day?] it resonated.

    Since “No Country For Old Men” changed my life i have been on a McCarthy tear.

    I know you know this but for anyone else reading who hasn’t heard, McCarthy’s 1985 novel “Blood Meridian” has been optioned for film, and the screenplay and direction are the responsibility of Actor James Franco [who was just on the daily show this week] and a chap named Scott Rudin. Todd Field, director of ‘In The Bedroom’ and ‘Little Children’, both recipients of academy award nominations, has been lifted off the project. This is in accordance with Wikipedia as of this week. Sorry to turn your post into my dump. But soon ‘The Road’ will find me. And all of his works.

  • Lisa June 13, 2011, 11:48 am

    I happened to see the movie before I read the book. In fact, because of the movie I sought out the book. During much of the movie I was depressed and wondered what the point was of this story. I wondered how the remaining people had survived something no animals had survived. (Until the end when we see the dog). But the more I watched the more I saw it as a movie about a father who had to crush much of his own humanity enable to have the strength and courage to teach and save his son. All the while it was his son who reminded him of his humanity. I felt the father reflected all the harshness of their new reality while the son keep hope of a better life alive. It was the mother who gave up hope. The father had hope until the end. Otherwise he would have shot his son in the end.

  • Doug November 27, 2011, 10:15 pm

    Loved the movie more than the book. Didn’t like the books writing style. Loved that the movie told the backstory better. Glad I read the book first though.