Every so often there's a book that makes you do something stupid, like read it straight through until 4:30 in the morning. I've just finished doing that with Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. I decided to read it because I had decided to see the movie (opening last week, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee). And, having read Rick Groen's review in the Globe and Mail, I decided that I'd prefer to take the "Biblical cadences" with me into the theatre if they weren't going to be there from the screen.
I'll admit it -- I'm a fan of the Viggo, and have watched not a few weak movies based on his strong appearance in them. He came to my attention, of course, as Lord Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, though I realized at the time how unexpectedly he had previously commanded my attention in Witness, in which he had no lines! -- as well as other films in which he had floated memorably at the margins: Carlito's Way, Crimson Tide.
I skipped seeing what turned out to be his first Oscar-nominated role (who knew? I wasn't paying any attention) in Eastern Promises, because it was another work by the icky-creepy David Cronenberg, who did everything in his ghoul's bag'o'tricks to undermine both the good acting and the strands of significance in his earlier History of Violence. [I waxed eloquent, voluminous, and theological on what that film could have been about in more adept hands, here.] I'll probably break down and rent Eastern Promises, now that I know it was Oscar meat.
I've read one review of The Road which makes the correct point that the most dominant image in the book is that of the ubiquitous presence of ash. And the film is criticized, at its most basic, for failing to work with that image -- for an inexplicable paucity of ash.
If that's the case, I'm disappointed already, because while reading the book I couldn't shake that image -- an image burned into the consciousness of anyone who was watching the news on a September morning about eight years ago.
In McCarthy's book, the particular apocalyptic event which is catalyst to the narrative is not described, so the reader can't be sure whether it was a natural or (as the current Secretary of Homeland Security likes to call them) a man-made disaster. The few trickles of backstory McCarthy allows lean towards an indication that some sort of nuclear-weapon event is the likely cause, but the ambiguity permits one to concentrate on the more weighty themes of familial love, hope, endurance, and grace, rather than on geo-political questions and their partisan implications. This is entirely to the good.
It is to be hoped that the Viggo, famous for his noodle-headed pronouncements about the political implications of Lord of the Rings, will keep to himself any cause-and-effect relationships he might see between the story of The Road and the Evil Bush/Cheney Conspiracy, which is still getting under his skin even as his retires his 'Kucinich for President' bumper sticker.
For if there is any parallel which suggests itself, it has to be that vision of the world of ash which was created in 2001, across a limited number of city blocks, where fires raged for just 100 days, but which opened a wound that has yet to heal.
If we have reason to fear that the global firestorm and the world of ash will some day cover a wider horizon than one corner of Manhattan, it will not be because there was a show of 'cowboy' strength under a war-mongering Bush administration, but because there has been a dumbfounding roll-out of deliberate postures of weakness, hopping from one nation to another, on the part of the Obama government.
I find it impossible, for even a moment, to contemplate a world of ash without thinking of Manhattan on September 11, and Beirut before, and London, Madrid, Mumbai, and Bali since, wondering where the ashes will fall next. Still, that is a political scenario grounded in pragmatism rather than grace, and it should take a backseat when considering the virtues of The Road, on film and on the page.
Having gotten all this off my chest, I will look forward to watching the film in the penitential spirit of Advent, which is now upon us.
Not a 'feel-good holiday movie hit', to be sure, but then the holidays are not yet upon us -- so I'm making it an Advent project, remembering that the definition of the Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son, and therein hangs the tale.
IN WHAT SEEMS LIKE A MINOR FOOTNOTE...
The President has laid out his new, new Afghan strategy in an evening speech, using the cadets of West Point as his wallpaper.
Let's review the chronology:
--March 27, 2009 -- Obama announces his "new comprehensive strategy" for Afghanistan and Pakistan [based, we now know, on the Bush administrations complete review of the situation undertaken in 2008 and kept classified, at the request of the incoming Obama administration]
--May 2009 -- Obama appoints Gen. Stanley McChrystal to replace Gen. David McKiernan as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, less than a year into the latter's term of command.
--August 2009 -- Gen. McChrystal submits a 66-page report to Sec-Def Gates requesting 40,000 more troops, but the request is held back from being officially submitted to the President in order to allow him more time to tread water before dog-paddling in a discernibly forward direction.
--September 2009 -- Gen. McChrystal is finally permitted to make his request for 40,000 additional troops, with the scuttlebutt saying that he will resign if denied the necessary resources.
--December 1 2009 -- Obama lectures the West Point cadets, and the nation, about his plans to send 75% of the troops their general requested, to do all the do-gooder stuff they can accomplish, and to haul them out in 18 months.
Despite his passionless pedantry, Obama is cheered and given an enthusiastic reception by the cadets in the front [who proffered lots of hands for shaking and took lots of pictures -- made me wonder whether the advance men had once again handed out cameras and asked all the Obama supporters to move to the front, as they did in Iraq -- I'm actually okay with that because the 25-30% of the military who vote Democrat would sincerely like to be up there, and nobody's asking the other 70% who voted for McCain to be insincere].
Meanwhile back at the ranch, MSNBC's resident loon Chris Matthews suggests that by going to West Point [in what was a naked exploitation of the cadets for photo-op purposes], Mr. Obama may have been entering "the enemy camp". Retch. Wretch.
I listened to tonight's speech, something I have avoided as often as not over the past year. I detected an attempt on the President's part to seem serious and determined and possibly even leader-like as he stood before uniformed men and women whose outlook on the world he does not understand in even the most miniscule respect. He said words about enemies, and attacks, and national security. But they had a hollow ring. It was an unconvincing performance, principally because it was a performance -- there is nothing about military campaigns, or the "passion of command" , or the scent of victory [rather than "successful conclusions" or "responsible ends"], or the delicate balance of power in a dangerous world that he truly understands in a way that goes down deep in the recesses of the soul, where it needs to reside if you're going to even dare to take your stab at something like a "St. Crispin's Day" speech.
No such speech was given this night. Nor shall be, I suspect, in months to come. It is for the citizenry, then, to make up this lack, and cheer on those who choose to set their feet upon the field of battle for our sake. I think we're up to the job. Here are some helpful hints:
And just to remind the Viggo about that film, the point of which he was so determined to miss:
Now I retire, as a two-day Newfoundland gale continues to hammer the walls and windows, and drive the sump-pump like a galley-slave. The lights keep flickering and threatening to go out. The phone's been in and out of service all day. Just another blustery day on the Rock.
And another late night into early morning. Another day tomorrow for staving off a world of ash.
Stephen Green at Vodkapundit drunkblogs the President's speech. Everybody take a shot. Money quotes:
5:08PM “Troop levels remain a fraction” what they were in Iraq. True enough. 7/10ths is a fraction.
5:12PM “As commander-in-chief…” he’s decided to send an additional 30,000 troops for 30 months. That’s not a strategic decision. That’s a new-car warranty.5:14PM “I’ve seen first hand the terrible wages of war.” It was at a late night photo op here in the US, where nine of ten military families said “no thanks” to the photo op. But still… Bambi is young. And being President is HARD.
5:15PM “We must increase the pressure on al Qaeda.” I’m still not convinced that we can’t do that by firing craploads of Hellfire missiles into Pakistan’s NWFT. But that’s just me.
5:18PM “July of 2011.” Congrats, AQ. Keep your head down until then, and you’ll do fine. Again, these are not strategic decisions the President has made after ten months of review. This is kicking the can further down the road, but with a slightly bigger boot.
5:42PM Bad writing. Lame delivery. Tepid response — from cadets ORDERED to be nice. And a strategic vision equal parts High School Essay Content and low-rent public relations.
I hope you had as much to drink as I did.
No, Stephen, but I get the point. Boo-yah. Ooh-rah.