I think it was in Brian Aldiss’s history of science-fiction, Trillion Year Spree that I read about the semi-cosy postapocalypse, typified by John Wyndham. It’s the end of civilisation as we know it, but life goes on in new, innovative ways and it’s very interesting to be able to roam the abandoned world.
If you’re familiar with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – or with any of his work – you’ll know that his postapocalypse doesn’t belong in this category at all.
His is a post-disaster world where nothing at all grows and where there is almost no comfort or hope. Indeed, the genre and the setting are merely an externalisation of the brutal apocalyptic landscapes and consciousnesses McCarthy has been writing about all his career. Blood Meridian may be set in the nineteenth century, but it’s apocalyptic in its sensibility.
I love his Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, but I thought The Road a lesser work. Maybe that’s because the whole world finally discovered him and I was disdainful of their late interest in McCarthy-lite.
The film is a worthy adaptation of the novel. It depicts a father and his son struggling through the wasteland of America, trying to escape cannibals and rather vainly hoping to get to the sea. It is visually impressive, and even more so because I read that director Hillcoat used real abandoned buildings and landscapes across America. For two hours, you get to inhabit the world, after everyone else is dead, and you begin to wonder if it’s worth staying alive. The father believes so; his wife did not.
This isn’t a far-flung science-fiction world. It’s merely, as I said above, an intensification and externalisation of the brutal existential world McCarthy inhabits. At my most despairing moments I feel he’s right about the world. But even he has his moments of lightness and hope. In the film, it’s amazing how good it feels to witness a couple of minor acts of kindness and the discovery of a treasure trove of canned food.
It’s a well made film with no obvious flaws. That said, like the book, I didn’t love it.