While protecting his son from the physical dangers of this new, harsh reality, The Man fails to recognize that The Boy is steadfastly protecting him from the more destructive spiritual threat of despair. Time and again, his son reminds him that they are "still the good guys," and that "we have to keep carrying the fire" -- a fire that sets them apart from nearly every other survivor in this darkening world. Much of the film's language and symbolism is eerily incarnational in tone: "If I were God, I would have made the world just so and no different. And so I have you . . . I have you." "He is an angel. To me, he's a god." "All I know is that the child is my warrant, and if he is not the Word of God, then God never spoke." Throughout it all runs the language of fire, light, and goodness -- and holding out hope that, in spite of the utter hopelessness of the human condition, there is more to be believed in than just humanity. When The Man's ceaseless vigilance in protecting his son finally becomes more than he can bear, a solution presents itself in a way so inexplicable and unexpected that there can be no doubt as to its true origin.

When discussing the purpose and meaning of The Road, McCarthy himself compared it to another of his works, Blood Meridian, saying that, if Meridian was about "the limits of our inhumanity," The Road was about "the limits of our humanity." But as McCarthy's menacing, wrenching, and achingly beautiful story highlights so well, it is vitally important to remember that our humanity has limits in both directions. In The Road, we must deal with the ugliness of a society without hope and the level of inhumanity to which such a society will sink. But more importantly, the story deals with man's upper boundary -- the boundary that exists between our humanity and the Divine; the home of those very moments of Grace with which McCarthy (and O'Connor before him) deals so insightfully.

It is precisely the presence of these "bridge" moments -- moments where God reaches down to remind us of His presence and to raise us up to His level -- that makes films such as The Road worthwhile. They're often brutal, always difficult, and can feel almost relentlessly depressing. But as one catches sight of the Divine even in the midst of this vale of tears, they are gilded with a new and rewarding light.

This piece first appeared at InsideCatholic.com

 

Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a regular blogger and occasional columnist for InsideCatholic.com.