“The Road” is an Advent movie. It is about a child who carries the flame from an old world into a possible new world. It is about a child who is the word of his father, and his Father, if indeed there is a Father in a world that seems orphaned. As the father says early in the film: “If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.” Spoken about his son. And what father would not say the same? Yet we say it too as we prepare for Christmas, for this is what makes Christianity unique.
For anyone who has read Cormac McCarthy, the movie does not capture the book. McCarthy’s prose is too dense to be captured. Sometimes words can say more than images, to reverse the common cliche. But that being said, the movie captures much of the book, particuarly by retaining its iconography.
For example: Food. Food is sacramental. The boy sips a coke which he has never tasted before. His face alights: he remembers a world present to him that he has never seen. It is a moment from the Meno, and from the Mass. Father and son stumble upon an underground food cellar. They open a can of peaches and their beings light up. Even the cellar in the movie looks a bit like a church. The two of them consume a meal from another world, just as the taste of the eucharist opens a glimpse of a parallel reality, ready to break through, but not yet here.
Part of what makes McCarthy’s world so compelling is the absence of grays. That is odd: how can a black and white world be compelling when it is a world that none of us knows? Maybe that is the reason: in his post-apocalyptic world, we long for the same clarity of thought that the father and his son know. They are the good guys and others are the bad guys. The challenge is to be able to recognize them. Some of the gray in the movie comes from the father’s inability sometimes to recognize other Good Guys because of fear. The son has better eyes.
Another ambiguity is presented by the problem of cannibalism. The father will not let his son be eaten. He teaches his son to kill himself rather than be captured, and he will kill him first too to save him. I have always tended to think that I would do the same thing, so this presents itself to me as a difficult problem. Gray still exists, even in a world so stark.
Has God gone out of this world? It is unclear. It seems God does not want this world, that he has left it to die. But there are still good guys, and good guys carry the flame. They do not eat one another. They show kindness. These are the marks of the good guys. McCarthy’s world is one stripped down to the barest bones. There is a son. Humans are not to be eaten but loved. And there is a coast where all hope is not lost. It is an Advent movie.
I was skeptical of “Brothers.” Could Toby Maguire play an adult role? I was not sure, but now I am. I won’t tell you the story here. Go see it for yourself. It is a movie that struck me deeply. Perhaps I was in the right mood for it. Recently I spoke with a psychiatrist who works in a veterans hospital. The hopelessness he faces on a day to day level is almost more than he can deal with. Men cannot readjust to society. They don’t know how to live.
At one point, Maguire’s character Sam tells his brother Tommy (Gyllenhal) that he is drowning. He did something in Afghanistan that he cannot live with, and he is drowning. Maybe that is why this movie struck me. I see our culture drowning all around me. Especially in this season of Christmas, the drowning is most clear to me. Cannibalism exists on all sides. The Child is not the word of God, but things have become the word, sold to children, at the price of their souls. Fathers do not protect their sons, but sell them out for profit, more concerned about their physical lives than their spiritual souls.
Archbishop Romero once preached: “No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say: ‘You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that.'”
That is what “Brothers” says. Obama cannot offer true hope. He just sent 30,000 soldiers into Afghanistan. So much for a presidency of peace. Nor can our culture save us. We are drowning, but unless we own up to what we have done, we cannot be saved. That is what I learned from “Brothers.” Both “The Road” and “Brothers” touch on sores in present day America. I think it is perfect that they came out during Advent. It is not despite their bleakness, but because of it that they are Advent movies. It is time for America to go out into the desert and face its maker. Or else we drown.