Thursday 21 January 2010

We're on The Road to nowhere...

Let me get this out of the way before I get to the meatiest part of my post. The Road is a very beautifully-shot, gorgeous film, and I can't fault its cinematography. However, it feels to me like it's related to one of those vapid bimbos that you come across from time to time - an aesthetically pleasing collection of molecules, but with every little going on beneath the surface. Yes, The Road is incredibly depressing, and yes, The Road is a "hi-brow" and "literary" film...but it's also entirely pointless.

Before anyone who actually enjoyed the film starts to sputter and head for the 'Comment' form, let me explain my thinking. Most films, at least those produced by Western cinema, contain a plot, or narrative. Yes? I can think of very few successes from the past few years that have managed to dispense with this key ingredient and still have a hit. The film industry is exactly that - an industry. Many individuals who work within it might do so in order to produce art, but they still have to consider whether or not that art will make any money.

Now, The Road does at least have a vague plot. I'll admit that much. The plot is extremely basic (Father and son head across post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of a warmer climate) but that's no problem - lots of films can be summed up in a single sentence. "Four children enter a magical world via a wardrobe and have to save it from an evil witch" would be one example, while "A hobbit traipses across Middle Earth to dispose of a ring" is another. The problem is that there's very little room for growth within the plot. On one hand, you'd expect such a loose plot to give plenty of room for scope, but ironically, it does the opposite. The Road is more about the relationship between the father and son than what happens to them, and both characters wander through the film until its inevitable conclusion. Neither of them really appear to learn from their experiences, caught as they are within the rigid confines of the idea of the film, as opposed to its plot.

This, my friends, brings me to the "literary vs commercial" debate. The Road drops off the fence and lands so heavily on the literary side that it's cracked the paving. Beautiful cinematography and meandering philosophy replaces character development and a forward-moving plot because the experience of the film is more important than its story. Sure, there are instances in the film where plot is suddenly injected, and things get interesting, but then the conflict is resolved and everyone goes back to trudging along. Dull. Call me a Philistine if you want, but I'm unafraid to nail my colours to the commercial mast. I want to watch a film, or read a book, because I want to be entertained. I want escapism. I don't get that from literary films or fiction.

Right now I'm reading China Mieville's Iron Council, and sure, it deals with lofty themes and political ideals, but it also lets me wander the crooked streets of New Crobuzon when I should probably put the book aside and do my washing up. The Road might let me vicariously look at a post-apocalyptic landscape that I pray I never have to visit, but that's all it does. It parades its world in front of me like a John Constable or a J. W. M. Turner, but it never lets me engage with it. It offers no escape.

Lord knows there's enough in this life to escape from.


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