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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

books to movies: ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

Whenever there’s a movie on the horizon that’s based on a book I’ve never read, I wrestle with the conundrum: Do I read that book before I see the movie, or do I hold off and approach the movie with a completely fresh eye? There’s never a single right answer to that question, but when it came to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.], a simple coincidence convinced me to read. Because I’m a writer, I read a lot of sites about writing and words and books, and at one of these sites, I read something about what constitutes suspense and surprise and a good ending for a story, and — completely unrelated to the upcoming movie — The Road was mentioned. And it intrigued me so much that I figured: Okay, yes, I will read this book now.
I want to say I’m glad I did read it, but glad isn’t quite the word for the harrowing experience of McCarthy’s tale. I hadn’t read anything by McCarthy before, and I found that the starkness of his prose was as haunting as the story itself, and I was simultaneously horrified by his depiction of survival in a postapocalyptic world and totally unable to stop reading. There are ideas about a literally dead world — all the animals are gone; there is no plant life and no sun; the few people left have mostly been forced to resort to cannibalism — that I’ve encountered in other apocalyptic fiction, but never with such power behind them. McCarthy paints images that are so seared into my head just from reading about them that I dread how director John Hillcoat will handle them up on the screen… and since Hillcoat also made the brutal The Proposition, I expect his film to be unbearably compelling.

The Road opens in the U.S. on November 25, and in the U.K. on January 8, 2010.

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