‘Mise-en-scene can operate as part of narration.’The Road (2009)was directed by John Hillcoat and is an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 dystopiannovel of the same name. The plot tells the tale about an unnamed father andson’s journey to the coast across a post-war America and the horrors that theyencounter along the way. Visual story telling plays a pivotal part throughoutthe film and is conveyed using mise-en-scene, which can be argued to act as narrationfor the narrative. From the ragged clothing the unnamed father and son wear tothe darkly lit hallow buildings that remain, the mise-en-scene within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) reflectsthe genre and tone of the film effectively creating a dramatic post-war world.The costumes within TheRoad (John Hillcoat, 2009) can say a lot about character without blatantlysaying it without the use of narration.
Immediately, the audience is throwninto the world of The Road (JohnHillcoat, 2009) as the father and son protagonists wake to find themselvesliving another day in the baron world after sleeping rough. Their costumes areragged and their faces dirty, the audience is informed on who these charactersare and what kind of world they live in. The audience understands that thesetwo characters are suffering and living in a world much different from realityjust from the way they are dressed. The dirty thrown together clothing that thefarther and son wear are made up of winter coats, multiple layers of clothingunderneath, old trousers and hiking shoes.
This suggests that the twocharacters are living in harsh conditions, wearing whatever they find that willhelp them survive. The child’s clothing is interesting as its made up ofoversized clothing further solidifying that idea that these characters aredesperate and need make do with what they have. The costumes that are worn bythe Father in the flashback sequences create a contrast between the past andthe present. The father can be seen wearing much cleaner and brighter colouredclothing which creates a clear difference between the old life and thedystopian life.
This contrast suggests how hope is lost in the new world connotedthrough the dark muddy colours worn by the characters. Furthermore, these ideasare entirely suggested through costume and provide the audience with a cleardistinction of who and where the characters are. However, it can be argued thatmany of characters within the film all wear similar costumes which does notcreate a distinctive difference between characters. Although, it could besuggested that humanity is lost in the future which is conveyed through thecharacters having similar costumes. Bordwell and Thompson stared that “costumehelps pick out the character” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017, p.119) this canbe applied to the characters within TheRoad (John Hillcoat, 2009) as the costumes can say a lot about the characterswithout it being explained to the audience through narration or dialogue.Locations and sets used within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) are in themselves a character withinthe film, they create a world for the characters to live in and a space for theactors to express themselves and bring the characters to life.
Many of the setsand locations used in the film provide insight for the audience on how theworld functions and how the characters are integrated. For example, The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) takesplace in a dystopian future where America is reduced to a desolate wastelandand the country is a skeleton of its former self. This allows the sets andlocations within the film to be creative and interpret the world McCarthycreates in the 2006 novel. One shot in the road sees the protagonists travelinga highway as a crumbled city is seen in the distance (Fig 1), while this wasachieved through special effects it still acts as part of the set andsuccessfully creates atmosphere as the city appears ominous in the distance.
Anothershot shows a bare forest, the vegetation starved and the last remnants of treeshave fallen. This is an effective set piece as it creates the idea thathumanity has poisoned the earth and may be promoting a pro-eco message. Interms of narrative, it provides the audience with the idea that it may be theresult of humanity such as a war or virus. The harsh baron world that iscreated within in the film is effective at conveying to the audience how charactersin the world might live and interact with one another. This is suggestedthrough the way the actors interact with the space they are given to work withon set, each character acts uniquely in the world which creates the world more realistic.The colour of the sets and locations are like the costumes as they are mainlymade up of darker colours such as greys, black and brown thus connoting theidea that there is very little hope left in the world.
This again is contrastedwith the flashbacks as warm colours accompanied by the homely location of the set.This contrast creates a clear difference between the life before and life afteras both settings distinctive in their differences. Bordwell and Thompson arguedthat settings are “not only a container for human events but can dynamicallyenter the narrative action” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017, p.115). If true, thistheory can be applied to The Road(John Hillcoat, 2009) as the setting acts as one of the main contributingfactors towards the narrative throughout the film.
An example of this can bewhen the protagonists find the starved humans in the basement who are beingused as food. The basement is dark and grimy, chains hang from the ceiling andthere is little no lighting either which immediately begins to imply that thereis something sinister afoot. This is entirely connoted through the set of the basementas its never blatantly stated but implied which allows for a more interestingnarrative as the audience is not spoon fed information. Lighting within TheRoad (John Hillcoat, 2009) is significant as a majority of the lighting isused for realistic effects, such as natural lighting and light emitted fromimprovisational items such as lighters and lanterns. This is done toeffectively fit in with the tone of the film both narratively and tonally toachieve a more consistent and immersive world.
Due to the narrative of the filmand the overall premise, lighting that would appear on screen is limited ashumanity is in disarray and has limited access to electricity. This leads to thelighting being much more limited in some scenes such as the scene in the bombshelter where the protagonists find a stockpile of food and supplies. The twoprotagonists are eating by candle light which emits very low key lightingwithin the scene. In one shot the child character’s face is seen clearly due tolight from the candle (fig 2), however in another shot the child’s face isdarker as there is no light emitting that side of his face (fig 3).
Thelighting in this scene is also very warm which creates a much more wholesomeand relaxed tone in comparison to the cold lighting and lack of lighting thatis present in earlier scenes. This contrast is significant due to the subtextthat comes with the lighting within the scene, it may have multiple meanings behindit. Up until this point the two characters have being struggling to survive andhave had a limited food supply but finding the bomb shelter sparked a glimpseof hope for the father and son’s survival. The warm lighting may represent thehope that has been rekindled at this point in the film, it disconnects thecharacters from the rest of the world as it seems as if at this pointeverything will work out fine for these characters. However, the lighting mayalso be a link to the constant referring to “carrying the fire” that the fatheralways mentions to the child. While it is never stated what this quote means,it may imply some form of religious undertones that the father believes thechild is an angel of sorts. This is supported by the warm lighting on the child’sface within this scene. Bordwell and Thompson suggested that soft lighting wasused to defuse and make an image less harsh (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017,p.
125), this can be applied to the this scene as the lighting is is both lowand soft key lighting creating a warmer feel. Another example of lighting within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) is thelighting that is used during the flashback sequences. The flashbacks are setbefore America became a harsh wasteland so the lighting within the flashbackscenes are tonally different to that of the lighting in the rest of the film.The lighting here appears much warmer in contrast to the darker and limitedlighting that is present in the rest of the film. The opening scene in which wesee the father with the horses has very high key lighting to the point where itlooks unnatural. This may have been done to achieve a clear difference betweenthe past and the present scenes. The exaggerated lighting in this scene maysuggest how different life has changed as the entire mise-en-scene is differentto that of the present.
Acting and performance within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) is pivotal as the actors bring lifeto the world that is created by the rest of the mise-en-scene. Theprotagonists, the man/father played by Viggo Mortensen and the Child/Son playedby Kodi Smit-McPhee both do an excellent job of bringing the characters fromMcCarthy’s novel to life. Both actors give believable performances that fit thetone of the world. Mortensen plays a father desperate to find refuge for himand his son in a world of chaos who is also willing to do anything to allow himand his son to survive longer even if that does go against some morals. The wayMortensen and Smit-McPhee acts within frame is believable as they walk and actas if they are fatigued and starving which paired with the rest of the mise-en-scenecreates a much more believable world that is created, the narrative is pushedforward through the actors performances as they provide believability andinvestment.
“expression and movement aren’t restricted to human figures” (Bordwell& Thompson, 2017, p.125) this can be applied to The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) as the Mortensen and Smit-McPhee aregranted freedom to interpret the script in a way they think will benefit theworld that is created through the mise-en-scene. Furthermore, by having thisfreedom the actors are able to create the characters uniquely and make them distinctivefrom other characters and performances which allow them create the narrative ofthe film much more intriguing and captivating for the audience.In conclusion, TheRoad (John Hillcoat, 2009) creates a captivating narrative through the useof its mise-en-scene as various factors make up the film to create aninteresting narrative and world. The use of costumes allows the audience tounderstand characters and how they may affect the plot, while also giving charactersa personality. The sets and locations help solidify the world that is createdthrough plot and narrative while also giving the characters a world in which tolive. Lighting is used effectively to convey emotions of characters and events,reveal subtext and create differences between scenes.
The actors and theirperformances help bring the characters to life and allow them to become more believablein the world and create the narrative captivating for the audience. The mise-en-sceneplays a huge role within The Road(John Hillcoat, 2009) as it helps fill in narrative gaps and convey aspects ofthe narrative to the audience which may not need explaining by a narrator orcharacter. This allows for a much more investing experience as the narrativecan be open to interpretation. Bibliogrpahy Bordwell, D.
and Thompson, K. (2017). The Shot:Mise-en-Scene, Setting.
In Smith, J. Film Art: An Introduction. (pp.115)11th edn. London: McGraw-Hill.
Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2017). The Shot:Mise-en-Scene, Costume and Makeup. In Smith, J. Film Art: An Introduction.(pp.
119) 11th edn. London: McGraw-Hill.Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2017). The Shot:Mise-en-Scene, Lighting. In Smith, J.
Film Art: An Introduction. (pp.125)11th edn. London: McGraw-Hill.
Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2017). The Shot:Mise-en-Scene, Staging: Movement and Performance. In Smith, J. Film Art: AnIntroduction.
(pp.131) 11th edn. London: McGraw-Hill.Hillcoat, J. (Director) (2009). The Road.
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