The Road

by director John Hillcoat

Luck is such a big part of life and of moviemaking. To have the manuscript of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road fall into my lap before it was published was an example. I had no idea that the book would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize and become the most translated book of modern time. It so profoundly moved me that I knew back then it was a great gift carrying a huge responsibility.

My last movie, The Proposition, was inspired by McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. But with The Road Cormac surpassed even my expectations. It is the most poignant love story between a father and son that I know of, so I wanted to above all respect the book and his work, to be authentic and not ‘Hollywoodize’ it, to use great restraint and focus upon its core qualities. Of course it also meant leaping off a cliff and not knowing how I would land—but I made damn sure to take an extraordinary cast and crew with me. They went there because they shared the same feeling for the material—a timely parable about human goodness, about kindness.

The brave and heartbreaking work of Viggo Mortensen as ‘the man’ and Kodi Smit-Mcphee as ‘the boy’ was the key to such a story—they both had nowhere to hide. Charlize Theron makes you understand and feel for an impossible position as ‘the woman’. Every other character the man and boy meet was loaded with extra significance since they meet so few, so only a great cast could carry us through.

The Road is also about civilization’s slow death where disaster is made to feel physically and spiritually real—it’s literally apocalypse now. My brilliant key creative crew lead us to over 50 different locations, across four States in the heart of winter, took us to the sources—Mount St. Helens, Pennsylvania strip mines, New Orleans post-Katrina clean up.

The power of McCarthy's poetic prose will always be near impossible to translate into such a different medium, however we tried to capture the lyricism within the cinematography, a strange majestic beauty in desolate wide shots and real locations, the music, and dialogue taken straight from the book and spoken by talented actors and with the greatest relief we managed to get an unequivocal thumbs up from Cormac himself.

I feel that Cormac's immense talent lies not only in his poetic language but also in his insightful and unflinching view of humanity when stripped bare, of how people behave under extreme pressure revealing the worst and best in humanity with the precision of a scientist—grace under pressure via great characters and story telling. Above all, this is why I'm personally so attracted to his work as a filmmaker. To me the book felt uncomfortably familiar and uncomfortably real which is why we pursued a naked realism; we thought that was in the spirit of the novel. We hope you also will take the journey and see the movie.

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