Sunday, November 29, 2009

As for Film: The Road

It seems a little strange at first, but "The Road" couldn't have been released at a more appropriate time of the year. The holiday season is when most of us forget about our troubles, buy each other crap and ignorantly sings hymns about a God we don't believe in. So what does "The Road" have to do with Christmas? On the surface, not much, but just as the story's characters live in an America stripped of its materialism and economy, where only banal humanity and invisible intangibles remain, so also should the individuals in the audience look into themselves for the true meaning of "peace on earth, good will towards men."

A father and son are carrying the fire, the hope that keeps life worth living. The man is born of another world, raising his boy in a foreign place. But the boy has never tasted Coca-Cola before. He will never learn about Karl Marx. The sun has never shown on him. And he has never complained about any of it. There is no hope for him, but he doesn't realize that yet. The boy believes in good, and evil, but he believes that he and his father are dedicated to the former.

The sad aspect of this movie isn't necessarily that the world which has been destroyed was one full of happiness and vitality, but that it was a very ugly place even before the fires (as flashbacks of an unhappy marriage prove). Whatever happened to the planet was the result of humans. All of the animals were gone, no plants could grow, and only a few cannibalistic people remained. With few exceptions being humans who refuse to eat each other.

The father who is trying to teach his son how to survive in the burning world is teaching him things he learned from the old world. But in the new world, the slate has been cleaned and readied for a child. It is not so much that the world is completely hopeless, but that hopeless humans have burned it to ash. There could be hope, hope for rebuilding. But not because of anything that could be taken or learned from the old world. The old world was one of selfishness, greed and foolishness.

Our main characters represent two extremes. The man is all that destroyed the world in the first place. We do not feel warmth from him, he does not remind us of our fathers. He is dying. But the boy is innocent. He is pure, angelic and compassionate. He is that glimmer of humanity that is not all bleak and dark. He carries the fire.

These two extremes, in them we see the duality of man. There is grimness and fear, but there is also love and strength. Strip away the materialism for a moment and take a good look at mankind. Who are we when all we have is each other? If we cannot eat burgers, will we eat each other? If there is no electricity to produce violence on television, will we kill each other? If there is no pornography to jack off to, will we rape each other? Most signs lead to "yes," until we meet the boy. He is that rare gem of the human spirit who proves that goodness is not the result of a judicial system. The innate morality within him is godlike to the father, and rightfully so.

In this world where God no longer exists, prayers go out to the "people" who have already died. But in a world where humanity has been so lost, even this deity is useless. Thanking "people" is just as meaningless as thanking God in a world where spirituality no longer exists. Humans have returned to their primal states, living solely on instinct. They are animals, without a duty to God or each other or anything. They kill to survive, until they themselves are killed.

At times I've wondered how Cormac McCarthy could have written such a staggering book in his old age. Why isn't he becoming content with the world? How does he still have the mental strength to go back into the depths of his soul and come back with even more muck? And then I simply shake my head and quietly thank him for persevering. I am thankful that he has retained the courage to tell me about the ugliness that he has seen, and continues to see. I appreciate his brutal honesty. He shows me that there is much darkness in man, underneath the material, when the slate is wiped clean. And his strength to continue probably comes from that glimmer, that boy who he knows exists. He knows it's not a hallucination or a myth, he knows there's hope.

What would I do this Christmas if I couldn't buy anything? What if I didn't have anything to give, and nobody had anything to give me? How would we celebrate? How would we love each other? This is what we can learn from "The Road." What it requires to be a human is not something superficial, nor is it instinctual. There is a fire inside of us that needs to be carried down the road, otherwise we would cease to be what God created.

Peace on earth is not an external manifestation, nor will it ever be. Good will towards men is not a natural phenomenon. But these are not idealistic fantasies either. We can look inside ourselves and still find a child, and we can live in hope, in faith, and in love. Even in the cold. Even in the darkness.

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