Aussie director John Hillcoat (pictured above) seems a natural choice to helm McCarthy’s depress-a-thon. His previous film, The Proposition, depicted brutal murder and rape in the Australian outback, and The Road furthers his reputation as both a skilled filmmaker and a master of emotional devastation.
Hillcoat bridles a bit at the mention of the trailer for The Road, which seems to depict a film quite different from the one he made. It promises an action-adventure flick chock-full of explosions, disaster sequences, and Charlize Theron (whose character appears only in flashbacks). As Hillcoat explains, “None of that stock [disaster] footage was ever in the film or ever even contemplated. I understood why they did it. They were trying to give it a context to people who had never read the book.”
Part of the intrigue of The Road is that McCarthy and, in turn, Hillcoat never reveal the sequence of events that lead to the destruction of the earth. “I actually don’t like the apocalyptic genre because I always think of the big event, and what frustrates me is there’s no human dimension in that,” he says. “The bigger the fireworks, the more you’re distracted from people, from real emotional responses.” Without mushroom clouds, meteors, or aliens to steal the show, the father and son’s quest to stay alive while retaining their humanity takes center stage. “They’re not sitting back and discussing, ‘Oh and this happened, and this happened,'”says Hillcoat. “No, they’re just trying to live and not die.”
Much of this survival saga revolves around the constant hunt for food. At one point, the father finds what is quite possibly the last remaining can of Coke on earth and offers it to his son, who asks, wide-eyed, “What is it?” Although this scene is depicted in the book, the flashing of the Coke logo, along with several other instances of seeming product placement, elicited mild snickers from the audience. According to Hillcoat, “There was a big problem getting any of those products because all of those companies said, ‘No way, we’re a family company, we don’t want to be associated with cannibals.’ It’s weirdly misinterpreted. Some people thought, ‘Oh my God, this is just cynical product placement and they’re getting all this money…’ It took Viggo pleading to the head of Coca Cola on the phone, direct, to let us use it.”
When asked about his own views on earth’s destruction, Hillcoat, who professes, “I’m not a doomsday person,” reckons our mistreatment of the environment will eventually lead to our own demise. Then again, McCarthy’s money is on a comet, according to Hillcoat: “That’s what did in the dinosaurs. As a species we’re overdue. We’re very lucky, so touch wood.” However, he has hope that even in humanity’s waning moments, culture and the arts will prevail. Hillcoat says, “I was enormously reassured when I studied a bit of anthropology and discovered that the aesthetic impulse, as in our need to create, is in every culture inherently. [It’s] as strong as eating and shelter.” Was there evidence of that in The Road? “You see the [cannibals’] decorated skulls, actually.”
For those who like their turkey served with a side of emotional trauma, The Road opens in theaters today.