Talking to the director John Hillcoat on his staggering new film, The Road. Cormac McCarthy's award-winning novel, The Road,...
Talking to the director John Hillcoat on his staggering new film, The Road.Cormac McCarthy's award-winning novel, The Road, depicts an unnamed man and his son on the run through a world destroyed by some unnamed disaster. Food is scarce, and roving bands of cannibals scour the countryside for survivors. This week, the movie adaptation hits theaters. While incredibly bleak, the film is oddly appropriate for Thanksgiving, as it reveals the most beautiful underpinnings of our humanity-our capacity to love and to be loved, even amid abject depravity. GOOD talked to John Hillcoat, the film's director, about what might cause the apocalypse, the necessity of gun ownership, and whether we're already being eaten alive by corporations.GOOD: Was it hard to work on a movie this bleak? Did it bleed into your personal life at all?JOHN HILLCOAT: I never saw it that way, so I never had any problem. To me, it's a love story. The apocalypse is drama. It's setting a scene, putting characters under pressure to create conflict so that you discover something about them. Admittedly, Cormac [McCarthy] is very precise with how quickly we can slide under pressure into our lowest state. But as he's said, the book is about human goodness and kindness, and so I always saw it as a beautiful thing, as opposed to this bleak thing.G: Even in light of the apocalypse?JH: That's just the background, the scenery. The apocalypse has been around since before the Greeks. Every generation has had its apocalyptic stories. What is the worst fear for mankind? The end of the world. However, in our age right now, the fears are starting to compound. There's been a wave upon wave. There is the environment, terrorism, all this stuff that's come to the doorstep now. But a lot of the world has already been living the apocalypse. I mean, the homeless; when all your possessions are in a shopping trolley and you're trying to live out in the street. If you're in Iraq, or in the Twin Towers, or if you're surviving Katrina. There is a reality out there, but not on a global scale. I think the greater the obstacles, the more special it is when people are able to survive and make choices.G: The Road has been called "the most important environmental book ever written." But the cause of the disaster is left unexplained. Is the environmental perspective something you considered when designing what the post-apocalypse world would look like?
JH: The great thing about the book is the way that you can project into it. Even to the extreme of the characters not having names. And, likewise, with the big event. To me, [the environment] is the overwhelming issue right now. It's catching up with us. Seeing how powerful nature is is really something, but I didn't want to spell that out. Nuclear terrorism could jumpstart things. Or something that just comes out of the blue, like a meteorite. If you're the last people trying to survive, how it happens is irrelevant. But there is that element of the wakeup call, reminding us how vulnerable and how special we are. This is why Thanksgiving is the perfect release date, to remind us of basic things. I think there is a lot to be said for really basic things, like goodness and kindness, that we completely forget. I think there is a moral. It's a parable. It's meant to be some kind of reminder for us.G: It's a bit ironic how closely this film follows on the heels of the bombastic apocalypse in 2012, isn't it?JH: It seems to be a zeitgeist out there. But they're very different approaches.G: Yours is the more realist.JH: I think, with the book, there is great humanity there. It's really about who we are, what's important, as opposed to the roller coaster ride. Although, it has that.G: So, coming out of the movie, the first thing I did was call my dad.JH: That's great.G: But then the second thing was that I was thinking, I might need to get a gun. It just struck me that the gun was so helpful to the Man and the Boy. And it made me reconsider a lot of what I think about guns.JH: So you're packing now?G: Not yet. But I want to know if that was something you considered. It just seemed so integral to their survival.JH: I think that's more to do with the mythology and what Cormac writes about, which in some ways it's a new frontier, it's like the Wild West. It's survival. All those frontiers, whether they're in the future or the past or happening right now, they're always rife with extreme conflict. But your first response is what I hope carries through, as opposed to a lot of people arming themselves to the teeth. I don't think its come to that yet.G: There is quite a bit of religious imagery, especially a pivotal scene in a church. Was that intentional? Did you consider this a religious parable? Or am I reading too much into it? JH: The church was just one of the locations. We looked at a lot of photographs of major conflicts, like the second World War. I saw this image of a bombed out church, and what interested me was the change of things and their meaning to this whole other extreme. It's an abandoned place, where people aren't coming together to worship. Quite the opposite. It's interesting how things change. At the moment, the most powerful things on the planet are corporations. Yet, things could change so that they're totally meaningless. That's one positive thing about the apocalypse. Getting rid of corporate cannibalism.G: And replacing it with literal cannibalism?JH: Well, I don't know which is worse. But going back to the church: People can read different things. It can read on a mythic level or just appear on the human level, which is how I was approaching it. A story about human goodness can be a metaphor for so many things, whether it's just the better side of humanity or some higher power. We didn't want to hammer home any definitive answer there. You know, the book is the most translated book of modern time, and I think that's because of the different levels you can read into it.--Header photo by Javier Aguirresarobe © The Weinstein Company, 2009; Hillcoat photo by Macall Polay, 2929/Dimension Films, 2009.