‘Mise-en-scene Visual story telling plays a pivotal part throughout

‘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 dystopian
novel of the same name. The plot tells the tale about an unnamed father and
son’s journey to the coast across a post-war America and the horrors that they
encounter along the way. Visual story telling plays a pivotal part throughout
the film and is conveyed using mise-en-scene, which can be argued to act as narration
for the narrative. From the ragged clothing the unnamed father and son wear to
the darkly lit hallow buildings that remain, the mise-en-scene within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) reflects
the genre and tone of the film effectively creating a dramatic post-war world.

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The costumes within The
Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) can say a lot about character without blatantly
saying it without the use of narration. Immediately, the audience is thrown
into the world of The Road (John
Hillcoat, 2009) as the father and son protagonists wake to find themselves
living another day in the baron world after sleeping rough. Their costumes are
ragged and their faces dirty, the audience is informed on who these characters
are and what kind of world they live in. The audience understands that these
two characters are suffering and living in a world much different from reality
just from the way they are dressed. The dirty thrown together clothing that the
farther and son wear are made up of winter coats, multiple layers of clothing
underneath, old trousers and hiking shoes. This suggests that the two
characters are living in harsh conditions, wearing whatever they find that will
help them survive. The child’s clothing is interesting as its made up of
oversized clothing further solidifying that idea that these characters are
desperate and need make do with what they have. The costumes that are worn by
the Father in the flashback sequences create a contrast between the past and
the present. The father can be seen wearing much cleaner and brighter coloured
clothing which creates a clear difference between the old life and the
dystopian life. This contrast suggests how hope is lost in the new world connoted
through the dark muddy colours worn by the characters. Furthermore, these ideas
are entirely suggested through costume and provide the audience with a clear
distinction of who and where the characters are. However, it can be argued that
many of characters within the film all wear similar costumes which does not
create a distinctive difference between characters. Although, it could be
suggested that humanity is lost in the future which is conveyed through the
characters having similar costumes. Bordwell and Thompson stared that “costume
helps pick out the character” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017, p.119) this can
be applied to the characters within The
Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) as the costumes can say a lot about the characters
without 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 within
the film, they create a world for the characters to live in and a space for the
actors to express themselves and bring the characters to life. Many of the sets
and locations used in the film provide insight for the audience on how the
world functions and how the characters are integrated. For example, The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) takes
place in a dystopian future where America is reduced to a desolate wasteland
and the country is a skeleton of its former self. This allows the sets and
locations within the film to be creative and interpret the world McCarthy
creates in the 2006 novel. One shot in the road sees the protagonists traveling
a highway as a crumbled city is seen in the distance (Fig 1), while this was
achieved through special effects it still acts as part of the set and
successfully creates atmosphere as the city appears ominous in the distance. Another
shot shows a bare forest, the vegetation starved and the last remnants of trees
have fallen. This is an effective set piece as it creates the idea that
humanity has poisoned the earth and may be promoting a pro-eco message. In
terms of narrative, it provides the audience with the idea that it may be the
result of humanity such as a war or virus. The harsh baron world that is
created within in the film is effective at conveying to the audience how characters
in the world might live and interact with one another. This is suggested
through the way the actors interact with the space they are given to work with
on 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 mainly
made up of darker colours such as greys, black and brown thus connoting the
idea that there is very little hope left in the world. This again is contrasted
with 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 after
as both settings distinctive in their differences. Bordwell and Thompson argued
that settings are “not only a container for human events but can dynamically
enter the narrative action” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2017, p.115). If true, this
theory can be applied to The Road
(John Hillcoat, 2009) as the setting acts as one of the main contributing
factors towards the narrative throughout the film. An example of this can be
when the protagonists find the starved humans in the basement who are being
used as food. The basement is dark and grimy, chains hang from the ceiling and
there is little no lighting either which immediately begins to imply that there
is something sinister afoot. This is entirely connoted through the set of the basement
as its never blatantly stated but implied which allows for a more interesting
narrative as the audience is not spoon fed information.

Lighting within The
Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) is significant as a majority of the lighting is
used for realistic effects, such as natural lighting and light emitted from
improvisational items such as lighters and lanterns. This is done to
effectively fit in with the tone of the film both narratively and tonally to
achieve a more consistent and immersive world. Due to the narrative of the film
and the overall premise, lighting that would appear on screen is limited as
humanity is in disarray and has limited access to electricity. This leads to the
lighting being much more limited in some scenes such as the scene in the bomb
shelter where the protagonists find a stockpile of food and supplies. The two
protagonists are eating by candle light which emits very low key lighting
within the scene. In one shot the child character’s face is seen clearly due to
light from the candle (fig 2), however in another shot the child’s face is
darker as there is no light emitting that side of his face (fig 3). The
lighting in this scene is also very warm which creates a much more wholesome
and relaxed tone in comparison to the cold lighting and lack of lighting that
is present in earlier scenes. This contrast is significant due to the subtext
that comes with the lighting within the scene, it may have multiple meanings behind
it. Up until this point the two characters have being struggling to survive and
have had a limited food supply but finding the bomb shelter sparked a glimpse
of hope for the father and son’s survival. The warm lighting may represent the
hope that has been rekindled at this point in the film, it disconnects the
characters from the rest of the world as it seems as if at this point
everything will work out fine for these characters. However, the lighting may
also be a link to the constant referring to “carrying the fire” that the father
always 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 the
child is an angel of sorts. This is supported by the warm lighting on the child’s
face within this scene. Bordwell and Thompson suggested that soft lighting was
used 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 low
and soft key lighting creating a warmer feel.  Another example of lighting within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) is the
lighting that is used during the flashback sequences. The flashbacks are set
before America became a harsh wasteland so the lighting within the flashback
scenes 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 limited
lighting that is present in the rest of the film. The opening scene in which we
see the father with the horses has very high key lighting to the point where it
looks unnatural. This may have been done to achieve a clear difference between
the past and the present scenes. The exaggerated lighting in this scene may
suggest how different life has changed as the entire mise-en-scene is different
to that of the present.

Acting and performance within The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) is pivotal as the actors bring life
to the world that is created by the rest of the mise-en-scene. The
protagonists, the man/father played by Viggo Mortensen and the Child/Son played
by Kodi Smit-McPhee both do an excellent job of bringing the characters from
McCarthy’s novel to life. Both actors give believable performances that fit the
tone of the world. Mortensen plays a father desperate to find refuge for him
and his son in a world of chaos who is also willing to do anything to allow him
and his son to survive longer even if that does go against some morals. The way
Mortensen and Smit-McPhee acts within frame is believable as they walk and act
as if they are fatigued and starving which paired with the rest of the mise-en-scene
creates a much more believable world that is created, the narrative is pushed
forward through the actors performances as they provide believability and
investment. “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 are
granted freedom to interpret the script in a way they think will benefit the
world that is created through the mise-en-scene. Furthermore, by having this
freedom the actors are able to create the characters uniquely and make them distinctive
from other characters and performances which allow them create the narrative of
the film much more intriguing and captivating for the audience.

In conclusion, The
Road (John Hillcoat, 2009) creates a captivating narrative through the use
of its mise-en-scene as various factors make up the film to create an
interesting narrative and world. The use of costumes allows the audience to
understand characters and how they may affect the plot, while also giving characters
a personality. The sets and locations help solidify the world that is created
through plot and narrative while also giving the characters a world in which to
live. Lighting is used effectively to convey emotions of characters and events,
reveal subtext and create differences between scenes. The actors and their
performances help bring the characters to life and allow them to become more believable
in the world and create the narrative captivating for the audience. The mise-en-scene
plays a huge role within The Road
(John Hillcoat, 2009) as it helps fill in narrative gaps and convey aspects of
the narrative to the audience which may not need explaining by a narrator or
character. This allows for a much more investing experience as the narrative
can be open to interpretation.



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: An
Introduction. (pp.131) 11th edn. London: McGraw-Hill.

Hillcoat, J. (Director) (2009). The Road. Film. United States: 2929 Productions.