// The Road

Three days on and I still can’t decide whether John Hillcoat’s astonishing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” is relentlessly bleak or totally uplifting. All that said, though, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s essential watching. The story of a father and his son hiking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland on a quest to reach the coast is not easy watching – there are a couple of scenes that are hair-raisingly unpleasant, in fact, not to mention the metaphysical questions that it poses – but what struck me most of all is the relationship between father and son. It’s impossible not to be struck by it. It’s so real, so desperate and so raw as to be breathtaking.

One critic I read described the “fierce love” that the father has for his son in the film, and it’s a brilliant phrase, that. At one point, after the two have been attacked, there’s a shot of the father holding his son in his arms and whispering into his ear, “I am your father, and you are my son… and it is my job to kill anyone who touches you”. It will surprise nobody that I was thinking about God at that point; that, and the model for fatherhood that the Bible gives us – that kind of “fierce love” that will fight with all its power to protect the beloved from evil, even to the point of risk, pain and sacrifice…

It’s not a perfect parable, of course – and by the time the film ends, you may well be more sceptical about the father’s love than at its start (although that’s a matter of opinion). But it did strike me that, as far as I can remember, I’ve never seen such a powerful example of what God’s love looks like. “See what great love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God,” the apostle John writes in his first letter, “and so we are!”

Is that what being a ‘child of God’ means? If so then there’s more power in that then I think I’d ever comprehended; it’s like I’d never really understood it at all. But I think i’d just missed it – missed experiencing it and missed looking for it. The final chapter of the Song of Songs sees the lover plead with her beloved:

set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD…

Are you aware of that? In your own life or in the lives of others? Because if nothing else, that’s what “The Road” reflects – that “love [that] is as strong as death” that God has for us. It’s so easy to devalue or downgrade love, but in all its ferocity, as seen in Hillcoat’s film, it is seen to be formidable, a force to be reckoned with; and the original template for that love is the love of the Father, God Himself. It won’t compromise, it won’t stop and it just won’t quit. The moments that really did it for me have probably been picked over in other reviews – the father’s cry of “it’s okay for you; you’re not the one that has to worry about everything after I’m gone!” to which his son replies “I am! Don’t you see? I am!”, for example, or the father’s whispered words to his son towards the film’s climax, “my son, my son, you have all of my heart…” But they are powerful examples of what love looks like and of the reasons for love full stop.

I’m not ashamed to say that I came home from “The Road” and I wept; wept like I have not wept at a film in years and years. There’s a part of me that want to see it again and another part of me that can’t quite bear to do so. But you should go immediately. It’s a film that you really should see, and see in the cinema, where you can’t escape what’s in front of you. Watch it on a TV and the temptation may be to turn away or disengage. Faced with the frank reality of this love, it’s kind of understandable.

But we need to be confronted by this, I think. You know that devastating impact that John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” had when you first heard it? Well, we need a continual awareness of that “love like a hurricane”, and what it looks like when it’s directed towards us. “See what great love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God!” John wrote all those years ago. We need to learn to appreciate what that means now, in a culture that downgrades love to little more than sentiment and in doing so strips it of its power…

There’s one more scene in “The Road” that stuck in my mind.

In a voiceover at one point, the father murmurs to his son, “if I were God, I would make the world just as it is. And so I have you. And so I have you.”

In spite of the desolation and the chaos of the world that the two figures walk through, it is that presence of the other – and that relationship between them – which makes it worthwhile, redeemable even. The film ultimately provides no answers for the catastrophe that has befallen the earth and no real sense that things will change – but why should it? It is, at heart, a story about the relationship between father and son.

There’s something in that, you know.

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