The End of the Road Explained: Are You Carrying Fire?

This post contains spoilers for the road.”

Before the whole TV zombie concept really took off, the cinematic end of the world looked a lot grayer and more human courtesy of “The Road.” For anyone familiar with author Cormac McCarthy’s work, it should come as no surprise that the film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel wasn’t exactly the lighthearted movie of 2009. Buoyed by its 2007 Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection, ” The Road” was already a literary sensation before director John Hillcoat began adapting it as the first sequel to his critically acclaimed Australian Western “The Proposition”.

A year after “The Road” hit theaters, viewers have embraced a similar post-apocalyptic setting on the small screen with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” McCarthy wouldn’t publish another book until late 2022, when there was a new zombie in town trailer – for HBO’s “The Last of Us”.

While “The Road” is zombie-free, it alludes heavily to the flesh-eater as cannibalistic gangs jeopardize the journey of the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee). We are spared the sight of them cutting any human flesh, but within 10 minutes, the Man is already teaching the Boy to commit suicide should “the bad guys” catch up with them on their journey to the coast. Here again, as in “The Proposal”, we see a disheveled bearded man handling a revolver.

It has not always been so for Man. “The Road” begins with a flashback to a time before the world became an utterly desaturated landscape, ravaged by earthquakes and wildfires. The flowers bloom as the Man pets his horse and his sunny blonde wife, the Woman (Charlize Theron), looks on. In the end, the boy has a new family, and the viewer needs to understand what it all meant.

The good guys, the bad guys

An ongoing topic in “The Road” is the increasingly blurred line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. It begins as a simplistic way for the Man and the Boy to differentiate themselves from the people who threaten them. After shooting his first bad guy with one of the last two bullets, the Man tells the Kid, “Not many good guys left, that’s all. We’ve got to watch out for the bad guys. We’ve got to keep carrying the fire.”

The Man goes on to clarify that he means “the fire within you”, assuring the Boy that they are “still the good guys” and “always will be”. It’s a promise he’s destined to break, as the rigors of survival have eroded Man’s sense of morality, leaving him distrustful and selfish in the extreme, while Boy remains naturally selfless.

The Man is concerned about his son’s survival, of course, though his willingness to abandon hope with his finger on the trigger on that revolver is almost as irritating as David Drayton’s in “The Mist.” For the boy, however, being the good guys means helping others outside of his two-man family unit and not punishing those who wronged them.

The Kid follows the Golden Rule, basically. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is what it means to carry fire.

It’s easy to do when they’re in a house full of cannibals: clean out the bad guys with a basement pantry. Later, in a fireside conversation, the boy argues that even though he and the man are starving, they would “never eat anyone”, no matter how hungry they were. However, the Man is also so overprotective that the Boy has to beg him to share food with an older, weaker man.

‘Whoever made humanity will not find humanity here’


Ely the Elder (Robert Duvall) says he thought he was dead and the boy was an angel when they first met on the road. Sometimes the Child acts as the conscience of Man, giving voice to the better angels of his nature. “That old man wasn’t a bad guy,” he tells the Man. “You can’t even say more.”

For Man, morality is as obscure as cinematography and the question of what caused the end of the world. This influences his ultimate fate after a deadly encounter in which he and two other adults are mistaken for bandits. Before that, we see the Man cross a new line, breaking the unspoken good guy code with the Thief (the late Michael K. Williams), forcing him to strip naked at gunpoint after the Thief tries to flee with his belongings.

The Thief brandishes a knife at first, but as he lowers his defenses, we see that he is hungry and afraid, as are the Man and Boy. As he drools and begs, “Please sir… you don’t have to do this to me,” the Man literally strips the clothes off his back, reclaiming his possessions but also robbing the Thief of his dignity.

“You didn’t mind doing this to us,” the Man retorts. “I’ll leave you the way you left us.” However, he left the Thief in a much worse state, naked and shivering in the road. Even when the Boy pleads for the Thief’s well-being, the Man dismisses and dehumanizes him, saying, “He’s going to die anyway.” While he protects his son, the life of a stranger is too abstract for him to care about. He has lost compassion for others, and that will be his undoing.

Flare vs. Arrow


At the end of “The Road”, the Man is dying when an arrow wound exacerbates his illness. Throughout the film, he became paranoid about people following him and the Boy, and when an archer on a building shot him in the leg, the Man retaliated by firing his flare through the window and killing the archer.

As he did to the Thief, Man again overreacted, partly out of self-defense but partly also because he lost some basic human empathy as an adult. The cares of the world have smothered him and made him suspicious (admittedly, rightly so) of anyone he is not family.

It turns out that the archer and his own traveling companion thought that the man and the boy were following they. In this world of rags and bones – with its oppressive palette drained of all colors but gray – everyone is scared and everyone lashes out, mistaking good guys for bad guys and perhaps becoming bad guys themselves.

Some aspects of “The Road” are a bit too much. There are moments when it almost feels like an unintentional parody of a poverty porn movie, with emotional actors set to weeping string music, each of them made to look dirty and forlorn in a movie they’d be walking the red carpet for months later. This peaks with the moment when the crooked-toothed Guy Pearce appears at the end as the Veteran, revealing himself, Molly Parker’s “Motherly Woman”, and her two sons as the family of good guys who were following the Man and Boy. together.

They even have a dog with them. It is implied that it is the same dog that the Man and Boy heard outside the underground bunker where, at the start of the film, they ate like kings on canned goods.

Parents and children, carrying the fire


Thinking the bandits were approaching, the Man abandoned the shelter, even as the more optimistic Boy said, “You always think bad things are going to happen. But we found this place.” In a simple misunderstanding, the man let his fears get the better of him, giving up an abundant supply of food that could have nursed his lean body back to health. The bad guys were after him and his son, but there were also good guys – other angels – looking out for them. The boy saw one of the veteran’s sons at the beginning of the film, running after him with a desire to connect.

In “The Road”, actor Garrett Dillahunt appears as the gang member the man first shoots. Dillahunt auditioned for the role of Josh Brolin in another Cormac McCarthy adaptation, the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men”, where he ended up playing the deputy sheriff opposite Tommy Lee Jones.

Suffice it to say that “The Road” is a film that suffers in comparison to “No Country for Old Men”. It is not a masterpiece on the same level as the latter. However, if “The Road” has one thing going for it, it’s that – despite everything feeling dark and miserable – its ending is surprisingly more hopeful than the ending of “No Country for Old Men”.

In dialogue, it even conjures up the same image of a person carrying fire. This is a movie where a father presents his son with a Coca-Cola at the end of the world. On an abandoned viaduct, “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen takes the Man’s wedding ring and puts his wife’s memory to rest, before his son finally puts him to rest and takes the fire on to the next generation. .

Read next: 12 Things We’d Like to See on HBO’s The Last of Us

The post The End of the Road Explained: Are You Carrying the Fire? appeared first on /Movie.

Leave a Comment