Some years ago, the world began to decay; it doesn't really matter how, all that matters is that it happened and now whoever is left alive has to deal with it and survive on a planet where plant and animal life has ceased to exist, all except humanity that is. For this man (Viggo Mortensen), surviving is twice as important as it is to many of the others he encounters on his journey to the coast, because he has his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to look after as well as himself, and with supplies dwindling and too many of those they meet evildoers, things are looking grim for them both - not to mention that the man may not be long for this world.
And therefore the boy might soon follow him if he does die. This was John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, one of those films which is blatantly science fiction even though the filmmakers were reluctant to admit the fact, because in the main sci-fi doesn't win Oscars, which The Road promptly went on to do. Not win Oscars, that was. Or even get nominated for any of the big awards, for that matter, perhaps because the panels had read the book and found it more satisfying (it was widely read and often you hear the complaint about novel adaptations being not as good as their source), or perhaps because there was something about it which prevented it from wholly engrossing.
Probably because the Mad Max movies were more enjoyable to watch as far as Post-Apocalypse efforts went, the kind of work in this subgenre tended towards the action packed, with the rest (a sub-subgenre?) taking the more serious route. What The Road most resembled was the BBC's superior television film Threads, a programme which seared its imagery onto the memories of generations such was its utter lack of hope in positing how life would go on after a nuclear war, but here it was as if Hillcoat lacked the courage of those doomladen convictions, taking his cue from McCarthy, and could not help but inject a note of hope into what should have been an overwhelmingly bleak situation.
So if you were hoping for a wallow in two hours of desperate misery, there kept being thrown in little signals that, hey, folks, even at the end of humankind there will be something worth living for, and that will largely be down to religious reasons. Every so often the Mortensen character will restate his faith in God, and that He will not let the pair of them down in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary around them, and the sole reason he doesn't quite live up to his pious standards is to contrast with the son, who exists in this vale of tears to show up those around them, and the man for that matter, for sinking into degradation such as thievery and - ulp - cannibalism.
Not everyone the father and son meets is a cannibal, but they have to assume they are if they want to survive intact. Even then, they grow worried that they are being followed, and with good reason fear what the next day will bring as their food stocks, which they pull behind them on a cart, are forever dwindling. That said, they do find a bunker full of canned supplies, just one of those contrivances that soothe the duo's suffering; what the script could have done with this was to make more of the irony that the longer they live, the longer they have to endure this living hell, but still that streak of optimism shines through even if the actual sunshine does not thanks to the ever-present gloom of the sky. For a film whose reputation was that it was massively depressing, The Road didn't half go out of its way to prove that even the worst existence is worth living, and here, that was hard to accept, although understandable. Music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.