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.