The Dim-Post

May 15, 2010

A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions

Filed under: movies — danylmc @ 8:25 am

The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions. He got up and went to the window. What is it? she said. He didn’t answer. He went into the bathroom  and threw the lightswitch but the power was already gone. A dull rose glow in the windowglass. He dropped to one knee and raised the lever to stop the  tub and then turned on both taps as far as they would go. She was standing in the doorway with her nightwear, clutching the jamb, cradling her belly in one hand. What is it? she said. What is happening?

I don’t know.

Why are you taking a bath?

I’m not.

Che reviews the film adaptation of The Road. I have no real desire to see it but I found this point interesting:

While much of the focus on The Road is used to highlight the supposed ‘environmental message’ of the film and the novel on which it is based, I was left wondering if in fact the apocalypse levelled on the fictional world was not more akin to the great devastation we so nearly faced during the Cold War.

Each person to read The Road seems to read a different book. I didn’t take an ‘environmental message’ from it at all. I think it’s a totally valid way to read it – our lives are reliant on the ecosphere, when it goes we go – but I also think Oprah is right when she insists that The Road is a spiritual journey and that I’m right when I say that it’s a commentary on the horror genre, just as No Country for Old Men is a commentary on action thrillers and Blood Meridian is a commentary on the western.

I assumed the book was about a nuclear holocaust. When I was a child and the power went out I always checked to see if my digital watch worked. I knew that the electro-magnetic pulse of a hydrogen bomb would break it but if the watch still told time it was just a regular outage and I was safe.

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14 Comments »

  1. The Road is so obviously about a nuclear holocaust that I’m amazed that so many people say that the source of the devastation is unclear. It says a lot about how over the Cold War is, I guess.

    Comment by Jake — May 15, 2010 @ 9:23 am

  2. When I was a child…electro-magnetic pulse…

    did your parents ever have doubts?

    Comment by Neil — May 15, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  3. yup. i remember having a long discussion over a beer with a mate who had made elaborate plans for surviving the holocaust. the 80s were a seriously awful time to be a teen.

    it is the *actual* decade fashion forgot for starters…

    but i think the use of the holocaust is deliberate. instead of waxing on about CO2 in ppm and a long slow death, the author just goes, “BANG: now deal with it”. because regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same. biosphere retraction to simple organisms.

    pretty sneaky really.

    Comment by Che Tibby — May 15, 2010 @ 10:26 am

  4. I recall a deep seted conviction amongst my standard 2 classmates in 1984 that it was a matter of when not if there was going to be a Nuclear Conflict. In my early teens I did some pondering and came up with half a dozen or so potential target zones just in the Wellington region alone in the unlikely event. Climate change has nothing on the Cold War as a childhood scaremonger.

    Comment by samm — May 15, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  5. yup. i remember having a long discussion over a beer with a mate who had made elaborate plans for surviving the holocaust. the 80s were a seriously awful time to be a teen.

    I was obsessed with the possibility of nuclear warfare as a kid in the 1980s, since I grew up reading books about Soviet military capabilities (I was that kind of nerd). People have forgotten that a very large part of the argument against allowing nuclear-armed ship visits was about preventing New Zealand from becoming a target, rather than more general altruistic aims. I think, as Jake says, that a whole society has collectively forgotten in an almost complete way. US and British troops now march through Red Square in military parades.

    Ironically, of course, the world is now more likely to face nuclear warfare than at any time in the past. The difference is that it’s Israelis, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans and Japanese that are staring down that barrel, rather than ourselves and the people our society collectively identifies with.

    Comment by George D — May 15, 2010 @ 11:45 am

  6. i see the difference as the limited nature of an engagement between pakistan and india. millions upon millions would die, but you wouldn’t be looking at species extinction.

    Comment by Che Tibby — May 15, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  7. One morning when I was in standard 4, our teacher announced that the Headmistress was coming to our class to talk about ‘the news’. When she appeared, she started talking about the idea of ‘horrible consequences’ and how these eventuate when you do something you have been told again and again you shouldn’t do, but you do it anyway. A lot of us started looking at each other, and asking ‘what has happened?’. I said ‘have they nuked each other?’, and soon a rumour started around the class that a nuclear war had started between the superpowers. Then the headmistress asked us what we thought was the biggest news story of the year. Someone suggested the Chernobyl meltdown (and with 24 years hindsight I still think that was the right answer). It turned out she had come to talk to us about two New Zealanders being executed in Malaysia for smuggling heroin, which had happened that morning and which she thought was the biggest news story of the year.

    It was a massive relief, but I also thought she was a bit of an idiot after that.

    Comment by kahikatea — May 15, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  8. On the few occasions that McCarthy has been interviewed, he’s said that The Road was largely inspired by becoming a father at a (relatively) advanced age and that “awful feeling” that he would not be around to protect him. Certainly, it would explain the almost monomaniacal obsession of The Man to make it to the end of the journey, despite the fact he knows that in all certainty *he* won’t survive.

    For what it’s worth, I think the environmental message rang pretty prevalent throughout for me, much in the sense that “our lives are reliant on the ecosphere, when it goes we go”, as you point out, Danyl. Certainly, the director Hillcoat warmed to (erm, so to speak) that interpretation, given what parts of the book he choses to embellish and highlight throughout, most notably the preacher Eli as played by Robert Duvall. (Arguably one of the great actor’s most evocative cameos in years).

    For what it’s worth, I thought the film was a very sensitive take on the novel, to a degree, the adaptation shot itself, although slightly more portentous than the novel, which was a quick, lacerating read. If it doesn’t quite carry the fire of the novel, it still burns reasonably brightly.

    Philip Matthews’ review of the film is well worth reading:

    http://secondstogo.blogspot.com/2010/03/epic-homelessness-road.html

    Comment by Matthew Littlewood — May 15, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  9. I should also add that the reason why the book is so powerful is that it *doesn’t” explain how the world got that way. It leads the reader project whatever they want onto it. Btw, you should really get an edit function for replies, Danyl. :)

    Comment by Matthew Littlewood — May 15, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  10. When I read it I initially thought nuclear fall out was the reason for the devastation but as I got further into it with the ash a fires everywhere it felt like a super volcanoe was a better explantion. In the end it really didn’t matter.

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — May 16, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  11. first i read the shooting script, then the novel, and what i took most from the latter was how, no matter the hopelessness of the world, The Man, worn down past even survival for survival’s sake, exists solely for the his son. don’t know if i can bring myself to see the film.

    Comment by dfmamea — May 17, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  12. When I was at uni in England in the early 80s a fellow student wrote a play called “The Perth Factor”… The USA and USSR are in a stand-off over (I think) the USSR’s invasion of Europe and The West is running out of conventional options to stop them.

    How to persuade the commies we’re serious about using nuclear weapons without actually bombing them and provoking all-out nuclear war? Simple – drop a nuke on one of our “own” cities.

    The Perth factor.

    We all laughed, but not particularly heartily.

    Comment by mpatricke — May 17, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  13. Nuclear holocaust with earthquakes, huh? And fires. I think the writer deliberately confused us and put in place several symptoms conceal the real explanation. Great work. Even the characters do not get any names.

    Comment by TimoN — July 3, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  14. “The Road is so obviously about a nuclear holocaust that I’m amazed that so many people say that the source of the devastation is unclear.”… Have you actually READ the book? NOWHERE in the novel is there any mention of fallout, radiation or any other telltale calling card of nuclear war. I don’t understand how anyone who read the novel could be so sure that the cataclysm that nearly ended life on earth could have been anything other than a natural (almost certainly celestial and without a doubt, unexpected) act of God.

    Reread the part of the book where the man describes ‘the last night of the world’, he says that: “The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.”
    Would a volcanic eruption (or even multiple volcanic eruptions) really cause “a long shear of light”?
    That sounds more like something racing across the night sky. Imagine if you were to climb out of bed at 1:17 to see a comet or meteor hurtling toward the Earth.

    The object would immediately begin to burn up upon entering the atmosphere and as it began to slow down, it would compress the air in its path to a temperature equivalent to that of our sun. It would incinerate anything and everything before it.
    As the object passed over the sea it would undoubtedly cause millions of gallons of seawater to turn to steam thereby throwing off the salinity levels of the world’s oceans and causing catastrophic worldwide climate fluxuation.
    The object would then slam into the surface of the Earth with a force stronger than that of the simultaneous detonation of each and every nuclear weapon that has ever been created.

    The blast would immediately turn hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of tons of rock into dust and ash that would start fires far away from the blast zone when they returned to Earth.

    If the object was to strike with enough force, it’s even possible that the impact could cause some or all of the Earth’s volcanoes to erupt at once, sending hundreds of tons more of burning rock and ash into the atmosphere. It’s not impossible that the Earth could even sustain a hit so powerful as to be knocked off its own axis, thereby causing planet-wide tidal waves and upsetting weather patterns everywhere.
    It’s true that the Earth hasn’t seen a supervolcano eruption in recorded history, so we really don’t know what the extent of the devastation might actually be, but we haven’t had a meteor impact in human history either, so we can’t say how they would differ.
    It’s been speculated upon that the cataclysm that killed off the dinosaurs was a meteor impact and that the object slammed into the Earth somewhere near the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. We don’t know how long it took for most of the species to die and obviously there were enough left for life itself to maintain a toehold on the planet. In the devastated world depicted in “The Road” it seems as though human beings (although greatly diminished in numbers) are the only living things to have managed to survive.
    I’ve also read that scientists speculate that in ancient times, there was an eruption on the North Island of New Zealand (which at that time was uninhabited by humans) that was recorded by many ancient peoples that had no connection to one another. Supposedly, this eruption dwarfed that of Krakatoa and there were still many species left alive centuries later when the first Polynesian explorers to set foot on New Zealand arrived. (The volcano itself was completely obliterated by the force of the eruption and scientists have only pieced together evidence of its existence by studying its footprint in present-day Lake Taupo North Island New Zealand)

    Comment by Andrew Brannigan — February 5, 2013 @ 3:06 pm


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