Review of On the Road


Rating: R (Sexuality and Nudity)
Length: 124 minutes
Release date: May 23, 2012
Directed by: Walter Salles
Genre: Adventure and Drama

The movie "On the Road" was adapted from Jack Kerouac's classic novel with the same name. The film is primarily about a young writer, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), whose life suddenly turns upside down when he makes some new friends. Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund) and his girlfriend Marylou (Kristen Stewart) are very different from Paradise. While Paradise leads a quite life, the couple is extremely free spirited.

The movie is set in the 1940s, and Paradise's father has just died. The budding writer likes to hang out in the company of Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge), who gabbles a lot, the exact opposite of Paradise. One day, Paradise meets Moriarty, a good-looking man who is free spirited and a bit on the wild side. Moriarty is wandering around the country with no particular destination in mind, taking odd jobs here and there.

The wanderer considers home boring, and he likes to take pleasure where he finds it. He has Marylou, a teenage girl, with him for companionship. While roaming around the country, however, he indulges in several carnal relationships with a seemingly clear conscience. Paradise is wonderstruck and inspired by Moriarty's free-spirited life, and he decides to follow in his footsteps. He takes to the road, traveling with Moriarty on occasion and sometimes going it alone, all the while taking notes to use in his writing.

Although the two young men are both infatuated with Marylou, Paradise seems to have a homoerotic connection with the other man. Their feelings for the teenage girl do not seem to be very serious, and in fact neither of them seems to be overly interested in her. The guys like to hug, and these hugs seem even more romantic and emotional than the embraces they occasionally exchange with Marylou or even with other girls, for that matter.

Over time, other friends join the wandering group. They crisscross the country leaving a trail of incensed women in their wake and occasional flare-ups occur. For example, Camille (Kirsten Dunst) one day decides to throw out Moriarty, while Galatea (Elisabeth Moss) shows her rage at the errant ways of her husband. The only female who seems tolerant of all these events is Marylou. The mystery is: what does she gain in the end?

While some people have criticized the movie as episodic, vague, and rambling, these are the very things that make it work. The novel itself has been described in such words, and if the film was to do it justice, it had to follow in its footsteps. The movie has depth, and Kerouac would have been proud of it.

The film is a co-production of four countries-Brazil, USA, UK, and France. It is directed by Walter Salles and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Salles and his screenwriter, Jose Rivera, knew what they were doing, and they succeeded in turning this seemingly rambling novel into a rewarding movie. They particularly succeeded in producing moving emotional scenes, something that is not always easy to do. A case in point is the scene when the photograph of Sal, Marx, and Moriarty, taken at a bus station, is torn in two.

Most road movies have a sad ending, and "On the Road" is no exception. Perhaps this is because wandering endlessly on the road usually does not bring true happiness, even though many people think they could be happy that way. Even the classic on the road film, Monte Hellman's "Two-Lane Blacktop," had a depressing conclusion. Maybe it is like that in real life too?

The problem with watching a movie adaptation of a novel is that those who have read the novel have their own interpretation of the characters and their actions. Take the case of Moriarty, for instance. The man is supposed to be both artistic and mechanically minded: nothing short of the perfect man. He seems to be well versed in the works of Proust, yet knows how to speedily hot-wire a car. Moriarty, as depicted in the film, is handsome, promiscuous, and with clear flaws and shortcomings. It is this kind of thing that makes Moriarty (and by extension, the movie) more realistic.

The novel is a literary classic, and the makers of the movie had to be very careful not to undermine it in their attempt to replicate its success on film. The movie is well adapted, professionally acted, and has great visual appeal. Even viewers with no affinity for films that highlight love (in different forms), jazz, and drugs will enjoy it.