(For Cormac McCarthy fans, I also have a No Country for Old Men book vs movie)
We have a man and his son (whose names are never given) living in a post apocalyptic world where it is crazy cold and there are no animals or plants and a lot of the remaining humans have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.
The man and son are “the good guys” because they don’t eat people. Even so, this is a world where you cannot trust others and the man has become especially wary and doesn’t believe there are any “good guys” left. Very dog eat dog, because what food you share with others, is food you won’t have for yourself.
In the end, the man dies and the boy is found by another man, his wife and their two kids and it ends from there.
I didn’t find this book as engaging as I had hoped and my mind would often start to wander as I read. This might come down to personal preference though because apocalyptic stories don’t tend to be genre I am drawn to. (Aside from Mad Max Fury Road which is absolutely fantastic. Don’t hate me, but I actually haven’t seen the original Mad Max movies so that is why I am specifically mentioning Fury Road). I also wasn’t too attached to the characters, at least not until closer to the end. I really loved the ending though, so that made up for any boredom I felt throughout the story.
I’m glad to have read the book and am curious to read more by McCarthy.
Also, I didn’t find this as disturbing as others said. Terrible things are seen and alluded to but I don’t think McCarthy was the best at describing it in a way that made me truly feel the horribleness of it. Like I was always aware that I was reading a story, and the events never felt real enough for me to be deeply disturbed by them. I don’t reflect on this book and feel scared by certain mental images the way some books can do.
This book does bring up topics that have stuck with me and I reflect on. These themes are ones we will get to in a little bit.
I also wanted to address the way this book is written. McCarthy never uses apostrophes or quotation marks. I’ve read books before (Child 44 and The Double come to mind) where the dialogue is not typed in the usual way. Not using quotation marks didn’t make this hard to follow, and even the lack of apostrophes I didn’t even notice until I was a bit into it. I don’t know if McCarthy does this in all of his books, but for The Road specifically, I assume he did this because we are in a world of minimalism and a time when luxuries can’t be afforded. Even the luxury of wishing oneself dead.
This movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. John Hillcoat hired screen writer Joe Penhall because Penhall felt the dialogue of the novel did not need to be changed. The events are all the same as well. There are a couple scenes from the book that aren’t in the movie, but all the major scenes are the same. As far as differences, there really won’t be too much to comment on!
Viggo Mortenson is well cast as the man. When preparing for the role he would wear the same clothes and starve himself. He was even kicked out of a shop at one point because the owner thought he was homeless. (Anyone watch Arrested Development?? Lol)
Kodi Smit-McPhee is an actor I talked about in my episode for The Power of the Dog. He was 13 in this movie but looks younger. His age is never stated, but I’m guessing he is supposed to be around 8 or 10. I’m always wary of child actors, however going into this I had high expectations given how incredible Smit-McPhee was in The Power of the Dog. He didn’t disappoint! He is so sweet and wanting to make sure they are the good guys and is a beacon of light in this story.
Charlize Theron is in the brief role of the man’s wife/the boys mom. I wish there had been more women in this movie, because I felt especially moved in Theron’s scenes as well as the scene with the woman in the end which we will get to.
Theron conveys the desperation and horror, followed later by hopelessness and refusing to go on. She also shows the love she has for her son. I just found her scenes so moving. Also thanks to Mortenson because he is also so desperate in the scenes he and Theron have together.
The movie shows more flashbacks with the wife and we see the man missing her more than I recalled reading in the book. We see that she could play piano and at one point they find a piano and the man breaks down from the memory. We also see him get rid of the photo he has of her along with his wedding ring. This didn’t happen in the book.
The book does give us some flashbacks and we see as she starts to give up and wishes they had done it when they’d had three bullets. She also says in both how she would take the boy with her, if it wasn’t for the man.
I think the man showed more emotion in the movie than he did in the book. We see him missing his wife more in the movie, though both book and movie have the beautiful line about how they’d had a great day and it reads, “If I were God, I would have made the world just so and no different. And so I have you.”
In the book his character could be kind of wooden. I mean, I get it. He has to be. They are living in a dangerous world and you always have to be on guard and he has a young boy to protect and teach.
By the way, this is a big change from book and movie. In the movie, early on he is teaching the boy how to commit suicide in case it ever gets to that. He also says how he must teach the boy how to survive when he is gone.
In the book, he is often coughing, as seen in the movie. However, he never talks about how he needs to prepare the boy to be on his own. He just thinks about whether he will be able to kill the boy when the time comes. This led me to think the boy would inevitably die in some way. Though it got to the point where the boy’s death was mentioned enough times that I was like, McCarthy is trying to get us to think that’s what will happen, so it therefore probably won’t be what happens. So yeah, the book wasn’t preparing the reader for the fact that the boy will soon have to go on without his dad.
I love the scene in book and movie where the man says, “I’m scared, he said. Do you understand? I’m scared…You’re not the one who has to worry about everything…[The boy] looked up, his wet face grimy. Yes I am, he said. I am the one.” This is a great line from the book, but the scene is so much more powerful in the movie. This honestly may have been my favorite part of the movie, or at least one of my favorite parts. Smit-McPhee and Mortenson made these characters feel more real and human than the book had in my opinion.
The boy was a great character in book and movie and helped his dad keep in touch with his own humanity. The man makes the robber strip off his clothes and leaves him. The boy convinces him they need to go back and give the man his clothes and even some of their food and not leave him for dead, which the dad had done.
Good Guys and Bad Guys
The debate that goes on with the boy and man, the boy wanting to help people more than the man wants to, makes you think about what it means to live and be “human”. Like the wife, who says she doesn’t want to simply survive and would rather die. I also wouldn’t want to simply get by just surviving in that world. I would not want to live in a world where you can’t help others and, like I said, the dog-eat-dog attitude. When you are living life in that way, that isn’t living. The boy showing kindness and caring and wanting to ensure that he and his dad are the good guys, is the essence of life. Being willing to help others, and to forgive those that may do you wrong (such as the robber). Still seeing people as people, not just as threats.
In book and movie in the end the man dies. This scene did get me in the book and I almost cried. The man doesn’t show much emotion with his son much, until this moment and that’s what got me.
After this, a different man comes upon the boy.
The boy’s dad had talked about how they carried “the fire”, meaning the will to survive and being the good guys. The boy asks this man if he has the fire and the man says he does. He also tells the boy that they don’t eat people, and that he has two kids of his own. He then meets the man’s wife, and he goes off with them and that’s the end.
When reading the book, I was like wait, are they really good or not?? But I think that’s the beauty of the ending, you can decide if they were good or not. I read on reddit about how whether you think the people are good or not, shows where you are in life. Are you more jaded like the father and assuming the worst of people? Or are you more optimistic like the boy and wanting to believe in the good in people?
I think the movie makes it clear they are good (in my opinion). We see his two children plus they have a dog. I also loved the scene with the woman and this last scene with her talking to the boy was another favorite scene of mine. It made me want to hear even more from her.
Simplicity of the Story
This story is unique from most apocalyptic movies, where the people we are following have a mission-traveling somewhere where they know a community is, doing something with the hopes that it will save the world in some way, or going somewhere to stop the bad guys from doing what they do. This is a minimalist story with characters who can’t be afforded the luxuries of a mission any greater than simply to keep living. They wanted to reach the coast, but once they are there it’s not like they had something to achieve. I like the simplicity of the story being about them just living in this world. I assume they were choosing to go south partly because to survive in this world you have to always be on the move and they figures may as well go south.
The scene when they find the bunker with all the food was also a great scene in book and movie. In the book, they are starving and the man thinks he will have to kill the boy and himself. When they come across the bunker he thinks, “Even now some part of him wished they’d never found this refuge. Some part of him always wished it to be over.”
I think this is an important scene though because it is a bright spot in these desperate times. Hearing all the food choices they suddenly have, and finally being able to bath and clean their clothes. We needed this moment of bounty and happiness to counter the bleakness of most of the book.
I also loved how the boy wanted to say a kind of prayer, thanking the people who had set the bunker up but never got the chance to use it. Throughout this book and movie I just wanted to wrap this boy up and save him from this terrible world he is having to grow up. Wanting to save him from it before he grows up jaded.
Some small changes I wanted to address before wrapping this up-in the book when the boy gets sick, the man (and the reader) fears the boy will most likely die and the man even has a break down and is sobbing in the book. In the movie he gets sick, but it doesn’t seem as serious as it had in the book.
The book has three scenes that were more gruesome that aren’t in the movie. The movie shows when they see the people in the basement that are being kept by the cannibals-and this is a great scene by the way. But it leaves out a scene where they go to a diner and see a dried-up head in the cake display case, then another time when they see a dead baby. Another time they see a caravan type thing pass by and how the bad guys have slaves, then women who are being kept prisoner some of whom are pregnant, and boys that they are also keeping prisoner. The director left this out, feeling the movie was bleak and upsetting enough as it is.
Book or Movie
The movie follows the book very closely, and I think it brings this story to life in a way the book hadn’t. I felt more connected to the characters and I felt the emotions they each displayed. If you have seen the movie and love it, I don’t know if I would bother recommending the book. You aren’t missing much by not reading the book and the movie does a better job telling the story in my opinion. Credit where credit is due of course, because the movie wouldn’t exist without the book. Nonetheless, here the movie wins.