The Most Depressing Movie Ever

Monday 02nd December 2013

Occasionally a film is made that’s so depressing you wonder how any of the cast got through the shoot without taking their own lives. You’re probably thinking of The Matrix Revolutions or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I’m not talking about films that are depressing because they’re disappointingly bad. I’m talking about films in which every second is geared towards ripping the tears from your eyes until your body is a dried up husk with nothing but a broken soul left inside. Okay, now you’re probably thinking of Million Dollar Baby or Hotel Rwanda. Almost there, but despite being crushingly depressing those films do have their moments of uplifting humanity along the way. At least the relationship that develops between Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood is life-affirming for both of them, before she becomes paralysed and bites off her own tongue. And despite all those Rwandans massacred in the horrific genocide, Don Cheadle does save a lot of people and live to tell the tale. No, the film I’m referring to is so bereft of hope, so utterly dark in every respect, and so uncompromising in its absolute depression-inducing, slow crawl towards death, that it makes those other films look like Finding Nemo, if Nemo had never gone missing in the first place and the entire film had been one long rendition of “Don’t Worry, be Happy” sung by Nigel the Pelican.

Yes, I’m talking about The Road, John Hillcoat’s 2009 adaptation of the popular novel by Cormac McCarthy. Now, you’re either thinking “I didn’t see that, I’ll check it out to see if it’s as depressing as Adam says,” or you did see it and you’re currently doing the happy dance from Baseketball in an effort to repress your memory of it.

First of all, I’ve seen two other films directed by John Hillcoat; The Proposition and Lawless. Neither of these films were particularly cheery. In fact, both heavily feature violent, weary men shedding buckets of blood over whatever dusty, worthless territory they’re unlucky enough to call their own. One thing really irritated me about Lawless – oh wait, two things; Tom Hardy’s incessant mumbling and the disgustingly contrived happy ending. And yes, I’m counting Hardy’s character’s clumsy death as part of the happy ending. Anyway, that happy ending must have been Hillcoat’s attempt to make up for the misery he put people through with The Road.

The Road is the story of a man and his son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. It has a lot of the usual post-apocalyptic stuff; dust, dead trees, abandoned buildings, burned-out cars, dirty clothes and cannibals. However, one vital part of the post-apocalyptic fable seems to have been forgotten; the hope. Contrary to expectations, there’s also very little action in The Road, which is fine, except that there’s very little of anything else either. The plot is episodic to the extreme; the man and boy walk aimlessly along a never-ending road, occasionally encountering other people, all of whom they prefer to leave behind. They find a bunch of people locked in a basement, apparently being ‘farmed’ by cannibals; the man locks the basement back up, leaving the victims to die. They meet lonely, harmless, old Robert Duvall on the road; the man allows him to share a single meal and then leaves him to die. Their stuff is stolen by Omar from The Wire; in return the man steals Omar’s clothes and leaves him to die.

Viggo Mortensen is believable enough playing the man, although the character’s choices are constantly confusing. After they stumble across a well-stocked bomb shelter that has remained undiscovered since the apocalypse, he gets spooked by the sound of a dog in the distance and decides to leave. Man and boy then hit the road once again with the few supplies they can manage to salvage on a small cart. The cart then hinders their progress as they’re so weak from malnutrition and exposure to the cold. In another scene the man inexplicably refuses to believe that his son has seen another boy, preferring to berate his son for running off before dragging him back to the road.

When our two hapless protagonists finally reach the coast and the man spots a boat offshore, he immediately strips off to swim out to it in his weakened state. Despite having been careful to keep the boy within spitting distance in every other scene, the man now decides to leave him alone on the beach. Is the risk of dying from hypothermia or drowning worth it for whatever small amount of food he might be able to carry back through the waves? The answer is clearly no, but he does it anyway.

The man has a pistol with only two bullets remaining. This seems odd, given that ninety-nine percent of the population and all the animals have been killed already, you would imagine there would be no shortage of spare bullets in America. Of course, the two bullets are a plot device; the man repeatedly asks himself whether he’d be able to shoot his son if it came to that. And why would it come to that, you ask? Well, in some particularly joyful flashbacks, the man’s wife, Charlize Theron, lectures him about how they should have both killed themselves when she became pregnant. It seems that once the child was born, the man had a reason to go on living. But it wasn’t enough for Charlize, who went strolling off into the wilderness one night to die alone in her pyjamas. Life after the apocalypse is just too depressing to bother with. That’s the only message you can take from The Road. Every character we encounter is on a slow march towards death, with nothing along the route to look forward to but nervous encounters with other bedraggled survivors who probably want to eat them.

The boy was born after the unexplained apocalyptic event, he looks about ten years old and yet Viggo explains in his taciturn narration that there are no animals left alive. Even the trees and plants are all dead. What the hell have these people been eating for the past ten years besides each other? The man and boy are disgusted at the thought of cannibalism and seem to survive on the occasional tin of pineapple chunks they happen to stumble across. Oh, and in a tactless bit of product placement, the only point in the film you’ll see the man and boy smile is when they find a can of Coke. However, even the man’s happiness at reminiscing doesn’t last long as he tells himself that thinking about the past will only turn him insane. No, much better to focus on the present; the inevitable prospect of a slow and painful death from starvation. That’s a surefire way to hold onto your marbles.

I’m sure you can guess at this point where The Road leads. I would say I don’t want to ruin it for you, but really I’m just breaking it to you gently. If you want to stop reading here and watch the film, please let someone know what you’re doing so they can remove any sharp objects from your vicinity and confiscate your shoelaces.

The man and boy reach the coast. That’s good right? That’s what they’ve been aiming for all this time. They even see a bird! Hooray! That must be good, if there’s a bird there must be other animals, right? Maybe they still have Burger King here! But before we can even consider the meaning of this good omen, Viggo takes an arrow in the leg. Bummer. Then, in the only exciting part of the entire film, Viggo kills the opportunistic archer by firing a flare gun at him through a window. That’s cool, right? I thought so. His whiny little bitch of a son doesn’t though. No, his son thinks it’s wrong to kill a potential cannibal who just shot a fucking ARROW through your leg! Sorry, what? Given that they don’t have any antibiotics, they’re malnourished and frostbitten and they’ve been walking for god knows how long to reach this point, I’d say it’s absolutely fair for Viggo to kill the guy. He started it. And it’s the apocalypse. What else is the man supposed to do? Explain he would really prefer not to be eaten and ask politely to be excused? This guy has done everything he can to keep his son alive, and the kid doesn’t even bother to enquire about the ENORMOUS BLOODY GASH his father seems to have sustained from some asshole’s arrow. Ungrateful little turd.

As if that’s not depressing enough, the man and boy go down to the beach and the man promptly dies. Yeah, he dies. Great. After everything he’s suffered to get here, he dies. At least he got to see the sea one last time though, right? He was looking forward to that. Actually, no. The sea doesn’t even look nice. Much like everything else in the film it looks grey and dusty. Don’t ask me how it’s possible to make a vast body of water look dusty, but John Hillcoat clearly knows a way. Now the useless kid is left to agonisingly waste away, if he’s not caught and mercilessly devoured by the multitude of cannibals that seem to be everywhere first. But wait, someone approaches. Is it a cannibal? Probably. No, hold on, that’s Guy Pearce! He must be a good guy right? It’s clearly the end of the film, and a famous actor has appeared out of the mist. He’s obviously our young hero’s saviour. Hmmm… he looks a bit rough though. He’s got these ugly scars all over his face. And nasty-looking, matted hair. And rotting teeth. I don’t think I trust him entirely. No, he’s definitely a bad guy. Remember, Hollywood 101; ugly people are always evil. It’s lucky Viggo spent all those years instilling a deep distrust of all fellow human beings in the boy; he won’t fall for Guy Pearce’s charms just like that.

Oh, wait, it seems he will. Because Guy Pearce says he has kids. So he must be cool. And look, those must be his kids, and his friendly wife. They want to make the boy a member of their loving family unit. They’re like the post-apocalyptic Brady Bunch. Okay, maybe I was wrong; maybe The Road does have a happy ending after all. There’s a definite glimmer of hope for the kid, at least he won’t be alone. And this lot seem to have done alright for themselves. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll take good care of Viggo’s precious son.

But hang on a second… something doesn’t seem quite right here. Guy Pearce says he’s been following the man and boy all along. I guess that’s possible. It’s a bit weird, but hey, this is the apocalypse, you can’t be too careful. He’s your everyday benevolent stranger who wants to help them. Except, now that I think about it, he didn’t lift a finger when Omar from The Wire stole all their stuff. And he didn’t jump to their aid when Viggo took that arrow in the leg. And he didn’t warn them to stay out of the house full of cannibals. He never offered them any food when they were starving. He never gave them any form of protection with that enormous rifle he’s carrying. He’s this charming do-gooder who’s been following them all this time, yet he waited until right after Viggo died to come and introduce himself to the vulnerable and grief-stricken boy? That seems slightly suspicious to me.

Thinking about it logically; in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where food is so scarce that people are eating each other, why would Guy Pearce want another mouth to feed? Unless, wait... oh no... clearly he’s going to feed the boy to his own kids.

Wow. This is the most depressing film I have ever seen.

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