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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 08.25.08] post apocalyptic movie review script

No you're not seeing things. I hold in my hands the entire 123 page screenplay for Cormac McCarthy's The Road, written for the screen by Joe Penhall. Oddly, there is no cover page to help indicate which draft I might be looking at but each page is watermarked 9/11/07 (eerie eh?) and there is no question that this is a complete and fully realized work. To be blunt, the script is a complete stunner. It is a devastating masterwork which, I'm glad to report, has been written with absolute devotion to the original novel. If this is the script that gets filmed, then The Road will not only be the most important post-apocalyptic film ever made but it will profoundly affect the cinema going world. But I can't help but wonder; is the world ready for a film this dark? You can read the rest of our review after the break but I must warn you; there are some minor spoilers.

Those of you who've read The Road know how successfully it strips humanity bare and exposes the best and worst of our nature. There's no jaunty use of narrative framing devices like in No Country for Old Men, or playful genre blending a la All The Pretty Horses to blur the message either. The Road is McCarthy's masterpiece because the style is so friggin' precise that it becomes impossible to miss the point and equally impossible to put down. It is a very scary book and I'm here to tell you that this is going to be one hell of a scary movie. And I don't mean BOO scary here people. I'm talking about being confronted by how unbelievably evil we are scary.

I don't know how it's possible but everything, and I mean everything, from the book is in this script. No attempt whatsoever has been made to gloss over some of the book's more difficult subject matter and nowhere has Penhall tried to explain away the unexplainable. He truly gets this book and he gets why it was so effective. For example, we're still not told why the world is a charred smoldering pile of ashen snow, though there is a small hint at the beginning. The ambiguity is terrifying and Penhall is willing to let us draw our own conclusions about character motivations.

That's not to say there aren't some changes and surprises along the way. However, I'd say most if not all the changes are for the better. In some cases, scenes have been extended to create even more tension. If you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about when I mention "the house" scene. It is one of the tensest scenes in the screenplay and it has been extended to the point that it is almost unbearably suspenseful.

Surprisingly, most of the additions do the exact opposite of what I would have expected them to do. They actually make the world scarier, the situation seem more dire, and life more hopeless than the book even did. The first 15 pages are just scene after scene of powerful head-shaking stuff. I predict people are going to be blown away by how far this film is willing to go. And again, I don't mean to insinuate designer gore or cheap thrills but just dark dark dark subject matter and quiet, personal scenes of real life terror- like this one from page 8 and 9 of "The Man" reminding his son about the best way to kill himself:


Three pairs of feet wearing different shoes- a man's shoes, a woman's shoes, and a child's sneakers hang above three carefully placed chairs. The Man and The Boy barely react.

Boy: There could be something there. There could be corn or something.
Man: No, they ran out of food.
Boy: Maybe we could find some hayseed in the hayloft.

The Boy eyes the empty hayloft, goes over to the swinging CORPSES, studying them.

Man: It's not what you think, they committed suicide.
Boy: What does that mean?
Man: You know what that means.

The Man goes outside while the boy thinks about it a moment.


The Boy Comes out and finds The Man sitting on the wheel of a dusty, faded, soot-coated red tractor.

Man: Come here, sit down a minute.

He Takes the boy onto his lap and takes out his revolver, opens the magazine and shows him there are two bullets left.

Man: You see that? Two left. One for you and one for me.

He helps cock the pistol and curls the boy's thin index finger around the trigger.

Man:You put it in your mouth and point it up. Like this. Just like I showed you.

When, within the first ten minutes of a film, you get a scene like this you know that everyone involved was willing to pull no punches.

There are also a couple of scenes that have been added to give Viggo Mortensen's character a bit more background. They are very minor and do nothing to disturb the flow or integrity of the original piece- though I wondered how necessary they really were next to the five or so flashback scenes that are also in the script. One added scene has "The Man" taking "The Boy" to the house he grew up in. My guess is that it has been added to hit home the idea of "what we've lost" but again, something about it seemed a tad extraneous.

Another thing that shocked me were the flashbacks featuring "The Wife" (which will be played by Charlize Theron). I had been assuming they would be altered or extended to cash in on Theron's star power but they are actually given quite short shrift and they are very much to the point. No slow-mo scenes of frolicking in nature or funny hat wearing dream montages here folks. At most I would say the flashbacks will probably occupy less than 5 minutes of total screen time and they mostly take place after "the event" which gives them narrative weight. I slightly question how Penhall has written one aspect of her character but, in the interest remaining somewhat spoiler free, I'll not get into specifics. Suffice it to say her character does something very strange and she seems a little too worldly in one scene. That's all I'll say on the subject.

Of course I haven't even mentioned the most crucial aspect of the screenplay and the one ingredient that will determine how well the film plays. That's of course the relationship between the father and son. Ultimately, this is a story about a father who is desperate to protect his son and get to the coast before winter comes. The dialog here is pitch perfect and very sparse like in the book but I gotta say that, in the end, it's all going to come down to young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. This is a very demanding role for a young actor. Besides having never known the world of the past, the character of the son has at least four highly emotive scenes that involve all sorts of crying and carrying on. If handled with care this relationship could be powerful enough to become the stuff of cinema legend. The scene reprinted below is a minor one and doesn't betray any crucial plot points, but it is pretty indicative of the strong bond between the two characters and how scary life would be if they ever lost each other.


The Boy opens his eyes, he hasn't been asleep, listening to the Man cough, worried. The Man returns and eyes the worried boy.

Man: What's wrong?
Boy: I had a weird dream.
Man: What about?
Boy: I don't want to tell you.
Man: Why not?

The Boy considers it.

Boy: I heard you coughing in the night.
Man: Were you awake?
Boy: It was in my dream. Then it woke me up.
Man: What else was in the dream?
Boy: Just you.
Man: What happened to me?

The Boy's face crinkles up, he starts to sob.

Man: Listen, when you dream about bad things happening it shows you're still fighting. You're still alive. It's when you start to dream about good things you should start to worry.
Boy: Do you dream about bad things too?
Man: All the time.

Even at the film's most epic and intense, it retains this close personal connection between the two characters and it's the one ingredient that will make this film deeply moving. The character of the father is no hero. But when pushed he will go to any lengths to protect his son. But, perhaps it's his willingness to do even the unthinkable and actually give a crap about someone other than himself that makes him as close to a hero as is possible in a world where everyone is is only out for their own survival.

So yeah, in case you couldn't tell, this script pretty much blew my mind. I loved it as much as the book and truly feel confident in predicting that the cinematic experience of The Road will be bold and unique. It manages to retain both the horror and the heart of the original piece. So, big thanks to our new best friend for sending us the screenplay. You rock!

Until Novemeber, keep on carrying the flame!

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pmlax31 (14 years ago) Reply

sounds amazing, have read the book a couple times n once i start i cannot stop, an absolutely stunning master piece n i expect the movie to be just as good---we need a few more pa movies


Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

You said:
One added scene has "The Man" taking "The Boy" to the house he grew up in. My guess is that it has been added to hit home the idea of "what we've lost" but again, something about it seemed a tad extraneous.

However, that scene is in the book!


agentorange (14 years ago) Reply

Whoops. That scene must have just slipped my mind... Although perhaps my forgetting it only proves my point about how "extraneous" it is.


Laurie D. T. Mann (14 years ago) Reply

Great that you were able to see the script! I'm glad they've stuck so close to the book. Almost everything I've been able to learn that was filmed was almost straight out of the book (though "extra tension" may have been added to the bunker scene...*groan*).

I always liked the scene where Father shows the Boy his childhood home. It was one of the quieter scenes in that part of the book.


BDSyd (14 years ago) Reply

Wow! you've hyped yourself way up, I foresee tremendous disappointment. LOL. I knew the filmmakers would stay true to the spirit of the book, it's being directed by John Hillcoat an independent minded Australian, not some Hollywood factory-filmmaker


Wilcoy (14 years ago) Reply

Thanks for the report and what a score getting the sceenplay. The movie should be a real shocker to the mainstream in November when the movie is realesed considering the realism that is portrayed in this post-apoclayptic book.


Tampa Gator (14 years ago) Reply

I picked up The Road after reading a snippet in the NY Times. No surprise to anyone here, but I couldn't put it down. What shocked me was how deeply emotionally invested I became in the father and son. Without trying--and despite my repeated efforts to refrain from doing so--I constantly saw myself in place of the Man and my elder son in place of the Boy. It was the only book that ever made me openly weep when I finished. Without trying to be overly dramatic, for me it was surprisingly the most explicit, visceral articulation of the love I have for my children. It was simultaneously brutal and delicately beautiful. I'm sure that may sound strange, but I can offer only this further explanation: When I suggest the book to people, I say, "If you are a father of sons, then you'll *get* it." (--Not to say that you must be a father to enjoy or be moved by the story)

I have been eagerly (and fearfully) anticipating this movie since I first heard the rumors about its pending production. I say "fearfully" because I know that based on how the book affected me, watching the movie will be a draining, almost painful experience, but one that I still will not be able to resist.

I stumbled upon your review from the io9 blog on the Gawker network, and I am hoping you will release more details in the near future. Based on what you've already revealed, I am thankful that the "sense" of the book has been faithfully rendered.

Even if you post no more on this, I want to thank you for the powerful sustenance you've already provided to those who, like me, are becoming increasingly (and at times, involuntarily) drawn into scouring the net for info on the movie. My hope is that I've helped convince you how appreciated further postings would be, and that you would accede to do so.


Insurrection Cinema (14 years ago) Reply

Just reading that little snippet about the boy's bad dream and thinking about how that could look actually brought a tear to my eye. I'm so glad it's John Hillcoat doing the adaptation of such an incredible book.


agentorange (14 years ago) Reply

This is one time that I think actually "seeing" the story will enhance the dramatic experience of the work. That scene you mention Insurrention, will be made even more emotional due to the fact that this kid is on the verge of starvation and sleeping in dirty snow with no hope of ever knowing anything but harsh times. The setting and situation will heighten everything.


henbayward (14 years ago) Reply

Definitely the hardest novel I have ever read, full of scenes you want to forget, but will never be able to. I've never been affected by a book like this, and I think it's specifically because I'm a dad. I think any father that reads this book (or watches the movie) will be unable to separate himself from The Man. The scene that affected me most, that I read over and over and over, was the "campfire" scene, that's going to be a hard one to see in theaters, but I'll definitely be there.


Dylan (14 years ago) Reply

Wow. Extraordinary, powerful stuff. From what you've shown us, the script does seem very true to the novel. With that hurdle out of the way, all that is left now is the acting. If Viggo and the boy do well in conveying the depth of their love, this film will be a masterpiece.


knickerbockerNB (14 years ago) Reply

Thanks for the updates! Please keep them coming.

I've wondered for months if my favorite lines from the book will be included in the film (as v.o.): "the breathe of God..." and the final paragraph of the book.

It's been nearly ten months since I've read the book and the final paragraph continues to haunt me.


Michael (14 years ago) Reply

I was one set for three days in Pennsylvania. I was called in to try out for the "Man in the basement" role as I am an amputee but was eventually cast as one of the gang members on the truck.

As a huge fan of CM and of the Road, to find that Hillcoat was directing it from the casting agent blew my mind. A fan of Ghosts of the Civil Undead with Nick Cave in the late 1980s and The Proposition, it seemed like a great fit.

The set was cold and wet and bleak, on an abandoned stretch of interstate near a tunnel. Viggo was great and Hillcoat was too. He was a very kind person talking with me about my handicap and what I would be able to do in the scene, even if it might eventually end up on the cutting room floor. The real deal however is Kodi Smit-McPhee. He is so grounded and in the moment and I can only think that it is a reflection of his upbringing by his parents. I spent most of my downtime on the set with his father. A giant of a man who is a credible character actor in Australia, Andy seemed to really keep Kodi in the present yet allowed him to step directly up to the edge of the emotion needed for this part. From the little time I was there, it certainly seemd as though Viggo and Kodi had an incredible bond and that is what will carry this movie.

I feel very blessed to have been cast and to have had this amazing experience. Thank you for offering a forum that can let me express this gratitude.



Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

I agree with everything said and am eager to see the film, but I am not so sure that The Road is CM's "masterpiece". I have a hunch that he would say it was a timely idea that formed naturally into a highly readable and simple, although meaningful, novel. I'd like to hear his thoughts on that, whether he invested as much of himself in the Road as his great works like Blood Meridian. At any rate, I don't have much of my own emotion invested in the film adaptation. The book itself won't cease to be a powerful story that creeps into my mind at least once a week. I have talked to a couple people about why this story is so profound to so many people. For myself, it is the Father's strength that resonated deeply- my own Father had passed away just a few months before I read it, and the book evoked everything that made him a mythical, heroic figure in my life. I even imagined them to be the same person as I read- my dad's vietnam experience superimposed onto the backstory of the book to explain his resourceful nature in a horrible and barren world. I wouldn't be surprised to hear the same from other people, men and women, whose father's devotion seems infinite to a child, but is only appreciated later when we see that they are just mortals like us. Anyone else? Why was the Road so moving? As for the movie, I'll watch it just to see how the story is treated visually, but it won't change the movie in my mind.


Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

I found this from McCarthy: "I like to think it's just about the boy and the man on the road, but obviously you can draw conclusions about all sorts of things from reading the book, depending on your taste," McCarthy said on the talk show. Tellingly, the 75-year-old author dedicated the book to his elementary-school-age son, John.


Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

"and takes out his revolver, opens the magazine and shows him there are two bullets left."

Can't wait to see how they pull this off.
Hopefully this movie finds some respeck in a Beverly Hills Chihuahua world.


Laurie Mann (14 years ago) Reply

agentorange - have you been following any of the discussion over at CHUD or IMDB by people who were apparently part of a teest screening audience last night? I've linked to both discussions from my site; can you lend any comments on what they saw based on what you said was in the script? It almost sounds like what you read and what some of the test-screeners saw was relatively different.


Laurie Mann (14 years ago) Reply

agentorange - Never mind. Turns out there's been one negative review of last night's test screening, but most of the comments I've seen have been positive. So it was just one test screener who didn't get it.


Jonboy (14 years ago) Reply

I confess to being worried about the movie, the book is so perfect that I don't know if it can be brought to the screen without diminishing it. The review, excerpts and information i have seen make me think the adaptation will be sympathetic and closely follow the original but i have seen too many movies where hollywood have taken a classic story and just couldn't stop themselves from changing it to meet the lowest common denominator. If the ending of Charlie and the chocolate factory wasn't upbeat enough what the hell might the studio do to the road?


tracy (14 years ago) Reply

as a single mom to a 7 year old boy, i was completely moved by this book. i completely relate to The Man. i finished it last night and was both breathless and had terrible heartache. i hope the film lives up to the book.


SoFar (13 years ago) Reply

It would be so nice if writers could be bothered to do a bit of research. For example:

"... takes out his revolver, opens the magazine ..."

Wow, this must be a really special sci-fi revolver, since it has a "magazine" instead of a cylinder, like every other revolver on the planet.

Or is it just suffering from an identity crisis? Because further down the page there's this:

"He helps cock the pistol and curls the boy's thin index finger around the trigger."

Yes, pistols come with magazines, so this is just a pistol that wishes it was a revolver, only it isn't, because in the trailer it is a revolver. Oh, dear. Somebody couldn't be bothered to read a dictionary. Whoever wrote this script should be shot, maybe that way they'll learn the difference between the two weapons.


olle (13 years ago) Reply


McCarthy might actually know more about sidearms than you do. The definition of a pistol is a firearm thats designed to be fired single handed.

Todays most common pistol design are semi-automatic pistols, typically sporting a detachable magazine inside the grip, and revolving pistols, with a non-detachable cylinder magazine. The later is commonly reffered to as a revolver, but that does not change the fact that it is also a pistol, a firearm and a weapon.

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