The Road to Deliverance or That’s The Game – Survive
The Road to Deliverance or That’s The Game – Survive
By Mike Tomano
March 14, 2022
© 2022 Fossil Entertainment Group
Exhausted am I, having traveled down The Road, a bleak novel by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is a story that posits the will to survive against futility. McCarthy’s prose is direct, relentless, and at times soul-stirring, following the struggle of a man and his son wandering a desolate realm, deprived of comforts, their sole possessions merest necessities contained in a battered shopping cart. Two broken lives stripped of security and dreams, armed with fleeting hope, what The Man calls “carrying the fire.”
I came to Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel after hearing him mentioned in interviews with people whose tastes I admire. I’ve heard tell of his “masterpiece” Blood Meridian, and am looking forward to reading it, as well as the rest of his works. Movies have been made from his novels Child of God (have not seen), No Country for Old Men (have seen twice), and The Road, a 2009 film adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen and directed by John Hillcoat that I dozed off watching a couple of years ago (I recall the film being good, I was just tired.)
Before the word was mentioned, my visualization of the unfolding events was grey, including the characters. A man and his son, wandering an depleted landscape, their quotidian seeking food and shelter, battling weather and what is left of mankind. There are no animals to hunt nor fish to catch, their sustenance reduced to salvaged canned goods and sifted water.
McCarthy depicts the tedium they face to reach another day. The Road’s landscapes of abandoned structures and mummified remains evoke the paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski, a Polish artist whose dystopian pictures juxtapose remnants of beauty in post-apocalyptic settings.
“How does the never to be differ from what never was?”
Breathtaking. The thought of The Man facing a past with no merit and a future with no fortune, was one of many put-the-book-down moments, forcing me to hold my place and think about it for a while, as it perfectly encapsulates man’s incurable futility defining the “meaning of life.” When looking at a life lived, one hopes for an afterlife where great mysteries are revealed, whether one’s faith lies in an Abrahamic eternal heavenly residence or total consciousness as promised to Carl the Groundskeeper by the Dalai Lama in Caddyshack. We want answers. Straight answers, see!
In The Road, the need for an ultimate answer is put on hold, as The Man exists solely for his child. All they have left is momentum.
Blessed or wretched, every scenario dealt by Life offers two options: Give Up or Keep Going. The Road, both literally and metaphorically, places us at the crossroad of those paths.
Good parenting proposes imparting love, compassion, self-esteem, self-reliance, and healthy lifestyle choices as paramount. We live vicariously through our children, providing security and adequate education of skills for them to go forward and prosper. And, at the heart of parenting lies our children’s safety.
The animal kingdom exists to procreate and protect offspring and kind. (Well, save for boar bears that get all jealous and eat their babies, but they’re jerks. Okay, cougars will eat a kitten. And shark embryos, the feisty little bastards they are, cannibalize their littermates in the womb! Plenty more anomalies exist in the wild, like rats, but what do you expect from rats? They’re rats! For all intents and purposes, we’re sticking with the “procreate and protect” premise spanning species.)
The Road boils that parental burden to its core. How and what do we leave a child in a world that no longer exists? Heavy stuff, and McCarthy drags us sweating and fretting through that stark ponderance, sprinkling beauty into the fatalism befalling the mortal coil.
“All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one’s heart have a common provenance in pain.”
Survival has been, and will continue to be, the basis for countless tales. From ancient mythology epics to current-day spy novel fare, staying alive in defiance of odds is a premise of which all can relate. The horror story creates suspense by placing its characters in threatening situations, fleeing from hockey-masked, axe-wielding maniacs or supernatural creatures. The adventure story finds our hero saving the world from the heinous plans of an evil mastermind, hidden inside a fortress with a laser beam's crosshairs on mankind. The mystery novel’s sleuth will unveil the murderer. The fairy tale peasant? Slay dragon, rescue princess.
Good against Evil. The story of existence infinitely retold, from The Bible to SpongeBob SquarePants. All we want to do is survive and return to normal. The plot elemental: Normal / Upheaval / Return to Normal / Happily Ever After / Amen.
In The Road, there is no “normal” to return to, life’s goal being merely to live. Bleak AF. Cormac offers reflections, the existential questioning, that would surface when global structure, and seemingly most of the planet’s life, is extinguished.
James Dickey’s 1970 novel Deliverance is a fine example of the survival story centered on the struggle to regain normalcy; survival with an endgame that aims beyond merely waking another day.
Four friends embark on a weekend canoe trip down a soon-to-be dammed river, guided by the outdoorsman of the group, Lewis. Their adventure heads down the shitter when one of two genetically-deficient mountain men decides to sodomize a member of their party, only to be shish-kabobbed by an broadhead-tipped arrow. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, crawl out from under your rock and do so.)
The 1972 film adaptation of Dickey’s novel by John Boorman tops my list of all-time favorite films, one I revisit every couple years. I first caught it edited for network television in my pre-teen years and found it a cinematic epiphany. It was a dream adventure for a young lad obsessed with archery and The Great Outdoors.
At the point where Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Ed (Jon Voight) are confronted by the pair of backwoods freaks, the movie cut to commercial. When it resumed, the duo had been rejoined by Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Drew (Ronny Cox), arguing over the judicial system while they buried one of the assailants. I was puzzled, and remained so until I saw the entire film on VHS.
Ah, so THAT’S what happened! Now, I get it! Holy Mackerel!
I’ve obsessed over and extensively researched the film and book over the years, delving into Dickey’s poetry and interviews, as well as Boorman’s filmmaking notes. The outdoor adventure aspect of it echoes my response to the “call of the wild,” my concern for wildlife and habitate conservation., and my affinity for recreation beyond the pavement, in the woods and on the water.
Beyond those aesthetics, its theme of nature’s indifferent cruelty in contrast to man’s decided cruelty is endlessly thought-provoking. Deliverance is a profound human nature study, its exploration of the extremes individuals are capable of in the vacuum of peril, detached from familiar surroundings and comfort, make it a rich and rewarding experience.
By the story’s conclusion, Lewis, who killed the inbred wonder who buggered Bobby, is hospitalized, facing leg amputation, Ed has killed the dentally-challenged cracker who killed Drew and Bobby is heading home, a cracked shell of his former self, to sit on an icepack and toil away on memory repression.
The film ends with Ed’s nightmare recalling their horrific weekend from Hell. (I prefer this ending to the novel’s epilogue, which continues Ed’s narration of the following months, lessening the impact of the story’s crescendo in comparison to the film’s haunting finale.)
The survival story seeks triumph, victory over obstacle and threat, defiance over odds and adversity. In The Road, the victory of survival lies in continuing in the wake of diminishing hope. In Deliverance, survival entails prevailing over dire circumstance, calling upon primal resilience to defeat devastation.
A particular passage in the film that resonates is the serene setting in early camp, while Bobby and Drew prepare tents and Ed and Lewis drift their canoe in the river’s shallows. Ed lays back and sips on a beer while Lewis attempts to arrow a trout. Lewis states, “Machines are gonna fail and the system’s gonna fail...then, survival. Who has the ability to survive. That’s the game – survive.”
A few years ago, such a notion would be considered extremist. Today? Not so much. One need only to be aware of the daily news cycle to deduce a less-than-hunky-f’n-dory status quo.
Admittedly, we’ve been spoiled by modern convenience. How much can we survive? How prepared are we to meet such a demand, one that comes without warning? Preparation is a preoccupation for me, but I still come up short in the confidence department. The trick is to keep piling on the prep, as well as the knowledge. At varying levels in different times, Life throws us all into the survival game. Could be an avalanche of unforeseen expenses, could be a madman with an axe chasing you through the woods. Prepare to survive The Small, The Medium and The Shit Has Hit The Fan.
Sylvester Stallone has survived hearing “Yo, Adrian!” shouted from passersby for decades.
Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t grab a coffee without some knucklehead yellin’ “I’ll be back!”
Pacino? “Hoo-Ha!” every day, from New York to L.A.
And for decades, Ned Beatty suffered fools bellowing “Squeal like a pig!” at him, his accomplishments as an established, exemplary actor, reduced to an early-career scene of his dimpled derriere getting stuffed by a psychotic hillrod.
So, short of waking to find a world in smoldering rubble or burying a body with your friends, let us presume our preparedness sufficient to battle daily hassles.
And when the goin’ gets tough, just remember Ol’ Ned and don’t sweat it. Don’t give up. Keep going.
You will survive. You got this.