The apocalypse on display in "The Road" is like nothing you've seen in the movies before, for one simple reason: It is total. There are no alien lasers, computer-generated tsunamis or last-minute solutions to the problem. This time the world is dying, and all anyone knows is that animals, plants and food are history. This is it, folks. Really.
Based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Road" follows an unnamed Man (Viggo Mortensen, gaunt and convincingly desperate) traversing the ash-gray countryside with his Boy (a heartbreaking Kodi Smit-McPhee). They were once a proper family, but the Woman (Charlize Theron) opted out of life. Now, they carry a pistol with two bullets - for when it's time.
The storytelling challenge here is obvious: How to keep an audience interested in characters so clearly doomed? The answer lies in the Boy. "If he is not the word of God, God never spoke," the Man says, echoing what's in the heart of many a parent. As the two encounter ragtag marauders, common thieves and worse, the father struggles to keep his son alive and - even more difficult - set the right example. "Are we still the good guys?" the Boy asks more than once.
"The Road" is remarkable for what it's not, but also for what it dares to be. Painstakingly directed by John Hillcoat and adapted for the screen by Joe Penhall (wisely winnowing McCarthy's biblical prose), this is both drama and philosophy. The film's unnervingly quiet scenes tend to set your mind working: What would happen if there were no hope, no need for morality, no future for yourself or others? Would it, in fact, change anything at all?