Looking for God on The Road
- Monday, November 23, 2009
If America's more conservative people of faith are going to sit through an apocalyptic R rated film, they usually want more than hope in the darkness and redemptive themes. They want answers. While The Road resonates with biblical prophecy in many ways and is easily the most realistic cinematic portrayal of an end times world yet, it hardly follows Revelation like a road map.
"The Road is a parable of how a child is born into this world where there is no kindness. And yet, he manages to find this and nurture this and even teach [his father]," explains Hillcoat as the director fields questions from a tiny gathering of Christian journalists. "Cormac McCarthy told me that if there's no spiritual dimension, then life is a vacuum and meaningless. He thinks that active struggle with faith is the key. This story is like the book of Job 1:1, it's just challenge after challenge after challenge."
Where Is God?
The movie is based on the premise that 10 years from now, a major cataclysmic event takes place. Whether it's a nuclear war, a massive meteor strike, or continent-shifting volcanic activity isn't specified. The story begins a decade or so after that fatal blow and introduces what remains of America. Welcome to a cold world whose freezing nights are broken up by the amber light of day. Forest fires, earthquakes and ash in the air abound. Plant life? Dead. Animal life? Road kill. Humanity? Scarce.
The Road follows The Man (Mortensen) and his son, The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as they walk south on America's skeletal highways hoping to find the coast and, with it, warmer weather and perhaps even "good people" like them. To get that far, they'll need to find enough food along the way and avoid becoming food themselves. In this world, money means nothing, and ammunition is currency. Thievery, violence and cannibalism rule the day. The environment is so grim, some families even take their own lives. The Man, himself scarred by the suicide of a loved one, is not immune to such thoughts, a reality that his son knows all too well.
"This movie paints a very bleak picture of what life would be like without the Church," explains Phil Hotsenpiller, the teaching pastor at Yorba Linda Friends Church in southern California. An evangelical scholar of end-times prophecy, Hotsenpiller has authored a sermon series and small group discussion guide for The Road. Drawing parallels between the movie and Revelation 6:1, he says, "In my opinion, this is a man without God, who's in the middle of the Tribulation. It's like the Rapture has happened and the Church is gone."
Hope in a Hopeless World
God's presence seems removed from the earth as well. But The Man makes a declaration that hints otherwise: "The child is my warrant. And if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke." These poignant words echo through the film as The Boy repeatedly challenges The Man to be compassionate to those in need, to be forgiving when they are wronged, and to be thankful when rare blessings emerge.
Though the author gave Hillcoat license to interpret the book for the screen as he saw fit, McCarthy did give him one directive: "Please keep as many of the story's references to God as possible." To Hillcoat's credit, he not only honored this request, he even added visual elements of faith that weren't included in the book. "Cormac sees this as a spiritual lesson, because he talks about 'carrying the fire,' the spirit," says Hillcoat, citing one of The Road's most compelling themes. The Man and The Boy assure each other on multiple occasions that they are "the good guys," who are "carrying the fire."
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