For a time, if somebody had asked me to name the bleakest film I’d ever seen, I might have said Roman Polanski’s Holocaust film, The Pianist, which was so dire that, honestly, I couldn’t even claim to have been able to appreciate whatever artistic merits it might have had. To be sure, I didn’t particularly care for the film at all–it was too much. The Holocaust was terrible. I get it. I could have done without wallowing in the misery of it for two and a half hours.
Then I saw Children of Men, which I thought stole the dubious distinction of “most soul-crushing film ever” from The Pianist. Again, Children of Men was a film that I wouldn’t even recommend, because despite the evident craft that went into its filming, it simply weighs upon you for days after watching it–it’s an effort even to make it through to the end. That said, if you did make it to the ending, you were able to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and for that, Children of Men was ultimately somewhat redeemed (though still soul-crushing on the whole).
Now comes The Road, a cinematic translation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book by the same title. There is almost nothing good in this film. It’s just colorless landscapes featuring the corpse of mother nature, and dirty, horrible people in a world that literally has no hope. The apocalyptic event is never explained in the film, but my understanding is that the world is slowly dying. Even if the protagonists are able to survive until the next day, you have to wonder why anybody would want to. What’s the point?
The total lack of specificity with regards to the apocalyptic event was a real sticking point for me, to be honest. We’re told that nothing survived except for people. All other life seems to have been destroyed. But how? And why? If I’m going to pull for the human characters, I need to know there’s at least some promise of rebuilding. But this film gives you none, and as a result, The Road is the bleakest film I’ve ever seen.
I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anybody unless you feel like giving yourself nightmares for a week.