A grim and tragic tale about a father trying to protect and raise his son after the world has ended.
The two roam a dark, muted, inhospitable landscape rotted by death and decay. Dad's somber narration informs us that "each day is grayer than the last", and indeed the constant overcast and random earthquakes lend to an understanding that things aren't going to be getting better any time soon. The depictions of the destruction-- a hollowed out, hellish shell of human settlement and forgotten back roads-- is more depressing than compelling. Flashbacks to the vague cataclysmic event that sparked a "firestorm across the planet" and "chanting in the hills" show the father's initial isolation with his pregnant wife, a Christian, who, we realize with a painful dawning logic, has lost her faith and by extension her will to live.
Since the complete ecological and cultural breakdown of the planet, most of the remaining humans have resorted to barbarism and cannibalism it seems, leading to some of the most disturbing sequences in the movie. Nothing creates more tension than the prospect of being lassoed by a redneck with a taste for human meat, except perhaps the prospect of being kept alive for further torturing and harvesting. Contrarily, a scene involving the father's treatment of a thieving hobo is equally unnerving, and the film even finds a way to make a random encounter with a wise old drifter into something of an ordeal. "Okay, let's have him eat a can of pears like he hasn't touched a scrap of food for months, and then immediately have him throw them up in a really gross way. The audience will love that."
The interaction between the father and son throughout the movie is itself a troubling account of parenting put through a blender. Watching the way he talks to the boy and the way the boy responds makes it very clear what he has and hasn't told this kid about the world; what would be the use of distracting him with fairy tales and pointless etiquette? The child is essentially a scared, ignorant animal that the father has entrusted himself to protect. His persistence is admirable, if a little scary, and they suffer on. Dad is not a hero, he is a man on a mission. But everything they encounter along the way makes us wonder: What is the point?
The movie works because of the potency of its two layers; what you "see", and what it is "about". This is one of the scariest and believable depictions of the fall of humanity ever put on film, in no small part due to gloomy plotting that lingers on depraved human behavior. The soundtrack and some of the imagery press a constant sense of danger. Then there is the narrative prism we gain from the different characters in the movie, the subtext about human nature, how family is where you find it, and how the need to survive sometimes clouds us from the good things right in front of us. The end result is a real downer of a movie, but not a pointless one, and the ending (which is shockingly... optimistic) sheds new meaning on the journey and leaves you thinking about... well, about the road.
This is not an experience I can imagine taking a date to see, or that I would ever watch a third time if given the choice. I docked points because it strays away from that "entertainment" line into "dark-art" territory a little too often. I took it in with a friend whose opinion I respect and for the most part he was bored out of his mind by the slow pace and ambiguous, post-apocalyptic framing. It shares some of the same footing as the superior Blindness and the more recent, less impressive The Divide, which is also packed with nastiness. Like those films The Road is best observed on one's own with supreme patience and a glass of wine in hand.