Critical Essay on The Road

The Road (2009), as well as its source material, offers an exploration of the human condition, specifically on what makes life meaningful, how morality plays into this, and what man’s relationship is with the divine. A formalist piece, the film attempts to stay true to these reflective themes. What stands out about Hillcoat’s adaptation is the bleakness of the film, its soundtrack, cinematography, and the overall message.

The setting of The Road is harsh. Father and son are the only characters traveling across a landscape of ruin.

They remain nameless throughout the film, a stylistic choice taken from the novel that adds to the vacancy of being a human at this time. Yet nature is in the brutal process of being channeled out. The Road is an example of a formalist plotline because it forces the viewer to ponder questions that the characters are battling with every day.

In a world as dreary as the one occupied by the Man and his Son, it is normal for reflections to occur.

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Why should they continue fighting and surviving when there is nothing left to strive for? These questions are plagued by the Woman enough to take her own life. The barrenness of the environment in the film reflects the barren feelings in the souls of the characters. This is a formalist experiment because it forces the audience to consider what brings meaning to their own lives.

Another formalist aspect of the storyline is in its organization and structure. Throughout the film, Man and Boy do little but repeat the following actions: walk, hide, search for food, and find warmth.

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The world portrayed does not allow for any type of dramatic developments outside of the circular and animalistic strivings for survival. To reflect this, the film is organized in self-contained scenes, each one disconnected from the other. The film’s structure asks the audience to see the world similarly as the characters do: one where relationships and meetings are passing. In addition, Hillcoat edits the film so that all of these journeys are intercut with remembrances from the character’s past.

The use of sound shows the bleakness portrayed throughout the film. The majority of the tracks consist of a slow-played piano with a low-tempo beat. The lack of complexity of the verses reflects the lack of complexity of life post-cataclysm. The soundtrack is also used occasionally, and usually in times of montage or travel. The film’s sound design is perfectly used for dramatic benefit. Every crunch and crack of a shoe in the woods sets the scene and stimulates the viewer with growing tension. Sounds, such as footsteps and rustles, allowed the film to give the audience the maximum effect.

Additionally, the cinematography strengthens the film’s themes and mood. The film is almost entirely in a long shot or an extreme wide shot. Hillcoat and the director of photography, Javier Aguirresarobe shot it this way for several reasons. As the theme indicates, one man becomes less distinguishable from the nature around him. In nature, the Man and Boy look like ants that portray the smallness of mankind. However, when the Man and Boy are in areas that they feel safe, the style becomes slightly different. Aguirresarobe uses deep-focus in these scenes to help emphasize the sheltering environment. Different angles are also incorporated to emphasize a point. For example, a high angle is often used to emphasize the emptiness of the environments.

Along with the shot selection, the color palette highlights the film’s themes. Despite Man’s own internal resoluteness towards eventual death, he believes that his Boy should maintain a fire within him. Though metaphorical, the fire relates to the actuality of fire itself. Fire is one of the last remaining tools that man can create for his advantage. Therefore, it makes sense that fire is one of the most emphasized substances in the film’s color palette. The fire provides life, warmth, and security to the characters which gives great vibrancy. While the warm orange tones of fire enrich several scenes, the majority of the film remains in muted gray and brown tones. These tones emphasize not only the coldness of the environment but the distinct lack of vibrancy and soul. The outside world is drained of colors at all times.

In addition, the low-key lighting is present because of a plot point, in which the sun appears to be dimming throughout the film. The only scenes without low-key lighting are the flashback scenes that are displayed in bright colors and lighting that is contrasted and heavily saturated. This was the past that existed before the cataclysm which sent the world into a spiral. It would make sense that these scenes are presented in the complete opposite of color schemes.

To conclude, The Road is a formalist film that does not maintain a traditional narrative storyline. Instead, it relies on episodic scenes to emphasize the disconnectedness of life. The soundtrack is a dreary performance to emphasize the lack of complexity. The visual style shows moments of passion or tension, where the camera can either get tight on a close-up or very claustrophobic with its use of deep-focus. Lastly, the film’s entire tone is bleakness and is purposefully done to allow the audience to liken their thoughts with the thoughts of the characters on screen. Cormac McCarthy’s book is said to be one of the most difficult to read because of its sad outlook on the meaning of life. However, the film ends more positively than the book by showing the idea of human race survival is an end that many humans feel was worth fighting to maintain.

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Critical Essay on The Road. (2022, Jan 05). Retrieved from

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