The Road and Adaptation…

Early this summer I finished the best work of fiction that I’ve read in a long while. It was The Road by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men). It is simultaneously the most haunting and most powerfully touching story I’ve read in ages. A post-apocalyptic journey tale, it seemed like an odd fit for McCarthy (admittedly I only know some of his other work), but he elevated the genre to perhaps its highest point. He sidesteps all of the post-apocalyptic clichés with grace. McCarthy’s greatest accomplishment in this work is his ability to make you feel, down to your very bones, the emotions that his characters feel. Their dread is your dread. Their loneliness is your loneliness. Their despair is your despair. And most importantly, their fragile, precious, tenuous (even tendentious) hope belongs to the reader as well. I’ve never had an author capture me emotionally in that way.

One of the thoughts I had when I picked the book up at first was, “I bet somebody’s gonna make a movie out of this.” After all, post-apocalyptic stories are all the rage, and McCarthy’s last book-to-movie adaptation was essentially perfect (No Country). But as I was reading I became more and more convinced that The Road is un-adaptable to the big screen. Or maybe it’s better to say that Hollywood could never adapt it, because they would be unwilling to do what would be necessary to make the adaptation true. What makes an adaptation true? It isn’t necessarily about detailed accuracy, making sure all the little characters and side-stories and inside jokes make the cut. It is about spirit. It is about ensuring that the emotion of the film, the themes, the main characters, the ethos and pathos mirror the book. The Road is, it turns out, being adapted into a film. I’ve only seen the trailer but I knew immediately that it will not be a good adaptation. I won’t run down the specifics, but let’s just say that all of those clichés that McCarthy side-steps, the film very clearly blunders straight into. It might be a good movie, and it will probably be a popular movie (maybe even critically successful), but I cannot see how it could ever be a good adaptation.

Let me put this another way. All of the things that the Coens did to make No Country perfect, Hillcoat (director for The Road) has clearly failed to do. It’s too bad nobody got Joel and Ethan on board for The Road.

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4 thoughts on “The Road and Adaptation…

  1. Why does Hollywood have to screw all the good stuff up? I'm looking forward to seeing The Time Traveller's Wife..but not in the theatre. I refuse to watch movies in public where I know I'm going to cry like a blubbering baby. 🙂

  2. Just read this too, great book, your description is bang on.

    Not sure why you think the movie is a bad adaptation based on the trailer, I’ve seen several trailers and I don’t know what you’re getting at. The director who made the road is not a typical Hollywood director by any stretch. Maybe the movie will be bad but I’m not sure why you’re convinced already without having seen it.

    • I didn’t say that I think it will be a bad movie, I said it will be a bad adaptation. This is why I think that based on the trailer.

      First, it has a major female lead, and she’s going to want more scenes than are available from the book. One of the key elements of the book is that only two characters have any developmental arc at all, the man and the boy. It is, for all intents and purposes, a two character story, and I think that’s a vital element.

      Second, the book never, not even once, hints at the nature of the disaster that has destroyed the world. The trailer does hint at this. Even a hint, any hint at all, destroys this vitally important structural element of the book.

      Thirdly, in the book the air is filled with ash and dust so thick that the characters can hardly see twenty feet in front of them. This creates a continual sense of eerie claustrophobia. It is also entirely lacking in the film. And yes, they could have done it, and yes they should have done it.

      Those three things tell me that it will not be a good adaptation. I’m not saying I won’t see it, and I’m very willing to change my mind and admit I’m wrong if that’s necessary.

      • There’s a big name female actress in this movie but the trailer only shows her in one scene, I think it’s entirely possible that she is no bigger in the movie than the book.

        The book does hint at what destroyed the world, quite vaguely, but its there.

        Also, the ash wasn’t always that thick the way I read it. It rained and there would be less ash and it came and went in waves with the wind and weather. That’s my memory of it at least.

        We’ll see, I’m excited to see it and from what I’ve heard from critics who didn’t like it, it sounds like they did a good job not appeasing typical moviegoers.

        I could be wrong though.

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