Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in "The Road" (Image courtesy Dimension Films
There are weeks when the movie theaters seem filled with visions of a post-apocalyptic world, the likes of "Zombieland" and "2012." But few pack the punch of John Hillcoat's "The Road."
The blogosphere has been full of questions as to whether he could capture Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a father and young son's determined march through a ravaged America. The simple answer is he has done a remarkable job.
The story is set several years after the world has been devastated by earthquake and climate change.
With animal life pretty much wiped out, and farming impossible, the remaining humans are left to scavenge for ever-dwindling supplies of food. Some have turned to cannibalism. This is truly the Hobbesian world, where life is nasty brutish and short.
The unnamed Man (Viggo Mortensen) and Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) live in constant fear as they push a supermarket trolley loaded with their possessions across the country. They are headed for the ocean, believing that if they get there life will be better.
Yet they are always prepared for the worst. The Man carries a pistol with two bullets, which he has told the Boy are meant first and foremost for taking their own lives should the need arise.
Travelling the road they talk about right and wrong, bolstering each other to survive, and to live as 'good guys,' a code which gives them a glimmer of hope in a hopeless world.
Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are both dead-on in their portrayals. Mortensen carries himself with the look of someone who has to dig to the bottom of his soul each day to go on, but will not give up because of his son. On the other hand Smit-McPhee's open earnestness, which occasionally slips to reveal the youngster still surviving inside is gripping to watch.
"Are we still the good guys?" asks the Boy after they survive a violent confrontation with marauders.
"And always will be, no matter what happens," replies the Man.
As the story progresses, the important subtleties of their relationship emerge. The Man provides protection and wisdom for the Boy. Yet it is the Boy who provides the pair their real strength, demanding that they live up to their ideals even in the face of bleak reality.
Along the way they meet others who test their humanity. They have to dodge terrifying groups of armed men and women who have crossed the line into murder for food.
Mainly there are just loners scrabbling to get by themselves. Michael K Williams, the fearsome Omar Little of "The Wire" appears as a thief. And there is Eli, an elderly invalid, they pass one day. The Man wants to ignore him, but the Boy insists they share some food.
As they eat the Man asks Eli (Robert Duvall) "Did you ever wish you would die?"
"It is foolish to wish for luxuries in times like these" he replies.
Ultimately "The Road" is about hope, and how little you need to keep going.
It can be argued that Hillcoat's "The Road" is slightly less bleak than the McCarthy novel, although it is by a very small measure. And opening as it does the day before Thanksgiving it will no doubt make many of us realize just how much we have for which to be grateful.
Papatola is one of the few arts reporters lucky enough to be leaving a newspaper of his own free will, and not due to harsh cutbacks. But still those cutbacks could keep his position open for an extended period of time, or eliminate it entirely.
If you are a regular reader of Papatola's work, and/or are in the theater business, what do you make of the news? Concerned? Or no big deal?(7 Comments)
Posted at 5:05 PM on November 24, 2009
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Museums
Right now author Amy Whitaker is giving a talk at Macalester College about her new book "Museum Legs: fatigue and hope in the face of art." But just a short while ago she was in an MPR studio. I talked with her about the book, the exhaustion people feel when confronted with museum exhibitions, and how she thinks museums need to change in order to cater to modern day art lovers.
Whitaker says she was initially inspired to write the book by a quandry she experienced in her own work with museums. Museums are reporting better attendance numbers than ever, but at the same time, whenever she went with friends, everyone seemed to have glazed eyes. tired feet and a numb brain within the hour.
You know when you go to a museum that everything is really important - that's why it's there. And so you start 'box-ticking' in your mind "yep, saw that, saw that" as opposed to having open-ended curiosity toward the objects.
Think about the way that you go into a bookstore or a library - it's humbling - you have to confront your own mortality, that you will never have time to look at everything there. It's just that the nature of looking at a book is so different from looking at art - because images are so immediate - that you feel that you can see everything. So it's a question of re-training your habit, going to museums to just look at a few things, accept that you won't see everything, enjoy it and then leave.
Whitaker says this is not just a problem resulting from our expectations, it's also basic economics.
Museums increasingly charge for admission, and they purposely price it similarly to a movie ticket. The result is they're sold as all-you-can-eat buffets but meant to be experienced like perfume counters. Plus people are more overworked and busy than they ever have been, and so the quality of "looking" has changed...
We live in one of the most visual cultures of all time and imagination and creativity are important to fields far far outside of art. I would really like for museums to be free so that people can just drop in and see a couple of works of art. I would like for people to feel a sense of public ownership and for museums to invite many more people into the conversation around art. If museums, for example, feel a need to expand their footprints architecturally, that they should have studio art making space. People would be able to relate a lot better to art if they had a physical experience of making a work of art at any level. The same way someone who took Suzuki violin lessons at the age of five is better able to enjoy a symphony performance.
Whitaker thinks you local museum should be like your local library. You might stop off on your way home from work for a half-hour, or go on your lunch break and just sit in front of a couple of works of art. She says they need to work on hospitality as much as anything. Rather than expanding their buildings to create more gallery space, or throwing seemingly non-art-related parties to get new people in the door, Whitaker suggests they work on telling people more about what's already there, and making sure they know they're welcome.
I wouldn't write a whole book to point a finger at museums - I would write a whole book to invite people to think about what's possible and to think about how museums can have a closer relationship to creativity. They (modern art museums) did when they were first founded, many of them were created as artist studios. Then they grew and became public institutions. Now they have a choice about resisting or embracing commercialization.