ON THE ROAD
Words Nicola Johnston
Does the film capture the essence of Jack Kerouac’s book? I don’t know the answer to that, as I myself, have not read it but I am sure it will divide many peoples opinion, on whether or not they like the film or not. The book has been considered to be the defining novel of what is known as the Beat Generation, young people who identified themselves through sex, drugs, poetry and Jazz music, they did not have the time to conform, to having jobs or for responsibilities. For many years the book has been waiting to be transformed onto the big screen, with plenty attempts failing, perhaps due to the plot structure of the novel being famously unconventional.
The Coppola family admit too trying to develop a screenplay of the book, with Roman Coppola slated in to direct, they set to work in 1979, this project has haunted the family for decades, with Frances Ford Coppola buying the movie rights, well he actually managed to buy the book, so it was his and no one could take it off him, he always believed it would make a wonderful film, it was just a matter of timing. It passed through the hands of Jean-Luc Godard, Gus Van Sant and Barry Glifford but with no follow through.
Then Walter Salles came along eight years ago. Frances Ford Coppola had been very impressed with The Motorcycle Diaries. Walter had already travelled the route taken by Kerouac and met all the figures involved in the Beat adventure and the book, he was in a way possessed by On The Road and in a way the film already existed through him, everyone gathered to discuss the plan of action and they gave themselves one week to reach an agreement. They succeeded in turning the novel into a film.
The film follows the character of Sal (Sam Riley) as he attempts to find ‘it’ in his travels across America, he dreams of writing a meaningful work of art. He is fed up with life, and is fascinated by all things mad, he meets Dean (Garrett Hedlund) who is the epitome of cool, with all around him looking up to him, in a god like fashion. They set out on their adventure, putting life on hold, trying to find out who they are and what life has to offer them, we meet many characters on the way including a strong performance by Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx and Marylou who is played by (Kristen Stewart)Camille, (Kirsten Dunst) gives a beautifully crafted and heart breaking performance. We also have Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, all turning in wonderful and weird cameo roles.
The film focuses on character development, with a real desire to reveal what is going on inside each of the individuals, dealing with their inner conflicts, it also has an urgency to explore the generation, through all the senses and it achieves this in bucket loads. With the soundtrack of improvisational Jazz which, is another character in itself, creating genius moments of happiness, doubt, joy, despair, loss and loneliness and underlines the images on the screen perfectly. The film is raw, on edge, full of crazy energy, you feel the heat, the cold, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the indoors and the wonderful freeing sore of the outdoors, the chaos, natures elements fly off the screen, you are on the road, with the characters on their journey, moving forward with them. It is a film bursting with colours.
However, the problem I found is that none of the characters are very likable, they leave you cold, you cant find any sympathy for them, perhaps only Dunst character achieves this up to a certain point, her struggle becomes extremely real, when she becomes a young mother having to make the right decisions, not only for herself but for her children, you relate to her and feel her pain. The rest of the characters are very self indulgent and when Sal manages to move on with his life and Dean turns up looking for help, looking for his friend, Sal walks away and discards him, Sal was able to grow up, Dean’s character is completely lost, trapped, unable to grow up, as everyone around him moves on and accepts responsibilities he cannot. You as an audience member are forced to ask the question, who took advantage of who? Sal in the end finds his responsibility in writing down his story and in return is given his piece of art. The film is beautifully shot and full of humour, with an incredible original soundtrack and the cast, each and everyone of them are fantastic. Walter Salles should be extremely proud of his achievement.
UK Premiere Interviews
ON THE ROAD in cinemas now
Photography with thanks to Mike Jonas