I don’t know about you, but I love reading. I can’t not have a book at my bedside table to burn through some pages of before sleep finds me at night. Lately, I’ve been trying to check out books that have had notable films based on them. It’s often interesting to see how they differ and what they have in common. Ideally, it’s a symbiotic relationship between the two medias. The novel can help flesh out characters and situations that might have seemed a bit thin in the film, and likewise, a movie can do wonders to bring the world of a book to life and craft atmosphere and an audiovisual experience that the original obviously can’t beyond the reader’s own imagination.
I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy‘s Pulitzer-winning 2006 novel The Road, which of course was made into a feature film in 2009 by John Hillcoat, with Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the leads. Both the film and the book follow a father and his son as they make their way through the barren post-apocalyptic U.S., struggling to survive under threats of cannibals, raiders, disease and starvation.
I was thoroughly impressed by the movie when I watched it about half a year ago. Post-apocalypse has rarely seemed so utterly bleak and desolate. Plants and animals are dead, civilization is in ruins and man has become hostile and paranoid. The rare glimmers of hope and recuperation that often can be found in works of the genre are pretty much nowhere to be found. There are no settlements where groups of people have banded together to try to rebuild some form of society, no secret greenhouses where plantlife is being kept alive. The world is dying. The man and the boy are making their way south to escape the harsh winters, but there’s nothing that says things are any better down there. The story focuses on the bond between the two protagonist, both relying on the other in order to keep going, and it’s portrayed really well. Viggo Mortensen has never been better, and Kodi Smit-McPhee goes beyond the norm for child actors.
Having now read the book, I can say that the movie doesn’t stray too far from its source material. In terms of story and themes explored, there’s not a lot that has been altered in any drastic way. What the novel does really well is to establish a rhythm to both the descriptive text and the dialogue. There are no chapters. The text is broken up into paragraphs of varying length, and since there’s no big stopping points beyond that, it’s very easy to get caught up in “just one more” syndrome. The writing fits the atmosphere of the world being portrayed, with sentences and dialogue often kept short, to-the-point and in a way soemwhat suffocating. Cormac McCartthy has a very extensive vocabulary however, and great know-how of how to use it. Once you get into the feel and tone of the book, it’s hard to stop reading. It’s very well-written.
If one is only interested in the story, there’s not a whole lot of reason to both read the novel and watch the film. As I said, they’re largely similar, so choosing one of the two should be sufficient. They’re both really good and make excellent use of their respective forms, though. The movie has a very stunning look to it and paints up a harrowing image of the world, and Mortensen is really great. The novel on the other hand brings McCarthy’s impressive way with words to the table and the dialogue between the man and the boy arguably flows a bit better in written form. If I have to pick, I’d probably go with the film personally. It’s a close one though, and maybe it’s just because I watched it before reading the book. So just pick the form that appeals more to you. It’s a story worth experiencing either way.