The Road is a 2009 film based on the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, written by Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote Blood Meridian). The film adaptation was directed by John Hillcoat (an Australian director who mostly works on music videos), stars Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son, while they travel on the road south through a vaguely-described post-apocalyptic wasteland.

While the book is a bit more descriptive of the protagonists’ surroundings and circumstance, the film adaptation did a great job of creating a burnt-out world of rape and ruin. It’s lousy with scavengers and raiders and death as the few remaining survivors struggle against each other to survive with what little is left; presumably on the eastern seaboard of the United States after a devastating nuclear war.

The Road

McCarthy is known for creating absolutely terrifying situations on page, pulling the reader down to their most primal soul-cringing base of humanity. His stories peel back all the fluff before revealing the very essence of the human spirit and soul, and how it reacts and adapts to world-shattering change. Some of that power is retained in this film, but for the most part it’s nearly impossible to put yourself in the father’s shoes as much as McCarthy does on paper. Director John Hillcoat clearly did as good of a job as anyone could have, but it’s just difficult to build the same kind of suspense that McCarthy does in scenes like the one where the roaming cannibals are heard approaching with their dirty oil-fueled truck. It looks badass enough in the film, but this is one of the most terrifying pages you will ever read in a book.

The Road
Not quite as creepy as the book but still not something you want to run into on a post-apocalyptic road.

If you watch the film carefully, you can absorb some of the know-how required to function in this depressing future by following the struggle of the man on the road and his challenges:

  • Always cold and wet.
  • Always hungry.
  • Always sick.
  • Always thirsty.
  • Slowing down because always cold, wet, sick, hungry and thirsty.
  • Supplies are necessary, but slow you down.
  • The kid slows you down.
  • Anyone else left is eager to kill you to take what you have.

Part of the problem here is that the man and his son are constantly on the move, because they have nowhere safe to stay that can sustain them. In the book, the father wants to keep going just for the sake of going, while he accepts the southern course will likely be the same as anywhere else he and his son have walked from. In reality, a dead and irradiated world would yield very little edible plant and wildlife to live off of, so having to keep moving and scavenging makes sense if you can’t locate a viable place or be prepared in the first place. Even being prepared wasn’t enough for millions in this world, as entire cities burn for months on end.

That said, even if you have to start from scratch, be mindful that you need to keep warm and dry. If this alone doesn’t keep you from becoming sick, it will sure make the experience of being sick just a little bit more pleasant.

Keeping fed and hydrated is going to go a long way in keeping you healthy and moving as well. When it comes to straight-up survival mode, calories are fuel to keep going, so anywhere you find calories is going to keep you on track and alive in general. That said, you need to keep all this dry clothing and sustenance on-hand if you want to focus on moving and not solely scavenging. That means you need a method of transporting your essentials. In the story of The Road, the father has to constantly push a grocery shopping cart which holds everything he and his boy own. It gets stuck, it breaks, and it’s just another tragic hardship that the man has the deal with. Learn from this and get ready with something a little easier to manage on shitty roads or in the forest.

The Road
That kid, cart, and old person are going to slow you down for sure.

Burdening yourself with a child or elderly person in a post-apocalyptic fight for survival can mean the difference between life and death any day of the week. In this movie, it’s understandable that the father still feels obligated to preserve the life of his son over his own, but in your own disaster-scenario, remember that anyone not pulling their own weight is creating extra weight for you to pull. And feed. And keep warm and safe and hydrated.

Be ready to defend yourself. When the world ends as violently as this one does, remaining survivors don’t take it very well. It’s a dog-eat-dog scenario, and an “if you can’t beat them, join them” kind of mob-mentality turn of events. In short, if you run into other people in a world like this, first assume they will kill you for the shirt on your back and the flesh on your bones. If they aren’t that desperate, they are doing just as well as you if not better, and either they see you as a threat or just plain competition. Never assume that others will submit to your will, so if you find a group of others, chances are you would be joining them, not the other way around, if anything.

While teamwork is key in rebuilding civilization, you can trust no one on the road after the wheels fall off the cart this badly.

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