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‘The Road’s’ John Hillcoat: Grilled

”I worry about when you turn the whole world into a consumerist capitalist system — how do you sustain that?“

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We’ve been watching John Hillcoat’s work for years. He’s the music video director behind such bands as INXS, Depeche Mode and Robert Plant. His first feature, “Ghosts … of the Civil Dead” was nominated for nine Australian Film Institute Awards, enabling him to transition smoothly into feature film directing. In 2006, “The Proposition,” starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone and Danny Huston, was nominated for 12 Australian Film Institute Awards and won four.

His latest is “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, it centers on a father and son struggling to survive in the wake of an unexplained apocalyptic event. Rich in theme, McCarthy’s novel examines civility in a lawless time and what separates humanity from the beasts.

“The Road” seems so topical — would it have carried the same relevance 20 years ago?
I do think there is a timeless quality to it — it’s almost got an ancient parable to it. It has been throughout time, the apocalypse has been there. I think it’s just a projection of our worst fears. But in another sense, it’s very timely, too — I think we’ve all been living in a bubble in terms of the chickens coming home to roost with 9/11 and climate change and now with the economic thing.
One of the themes of “The Road” is a breakdown in civility. Do you think we’re experiencing that today — even without an apocalyptic event?
I worry about when you turn the whole world into a consumerist capitalist system — how do you sustain that? I remember years ago, in the early ‘80s, there was a conference. All these thinkers got together after the Soviet system collapsed. It was a great victory for capitalism — and yet these guys got together, and the one thing they came up with is there are no ethics, there’s no ethical moral code in the nature of capitalism. It’s dog-eat-dog.
That’s where the cannibalism is kind of appropriate. I’m exaggerating somewhat, although even the latest crisis is about the lack of control or ethics with the hedge funds and the abuse of the banks.
There really is a kind of ruthlessness, a brutality that’s innate in that system, that needs checking and is unsustainable if it doesn’t get checked.
Will we leave our children a world that is better than the one we came into?
I do really worry about the environment and how we can sustain the resources and how we can sustain that. There have got to be some radical changes. But I hope that the new generation latches onto making some of those changes. To bring it back to the book, we are sliding and we need to be pulled into check, and hopefully that kid does that for us. They’ve got greater odds than ever.
Speaking of the book, it was very poetic. Were you able to transfer that to the big screen?
Cormac was great, you know, because he’s worked in film. “No Country for Old Men” was a script — and he couldn’t get it made, so he turned it into a novel.
The first conversation I had with him, he said, “Look, a book’s a book. A movie’s a movie.” He’d done his thing. He didn’t ask for a script. I didn’t give him a script. He said, “But I’m here to answer any questions,” and he became, actually, a great help and ally as well as an inspiration.
Regardless of the fact that it’s Pulitzer Prize-winning material, could this movie get made today?
If we were starting afresh right now, it could not be made, and that’s a worry. But I think that’s going to change, too. The movie’s all about fear and how fear shuts down possibilities and people just become reactionary and paranoid and defensive. That’s what the studios have been doing – they’ve been fearful that overreacting, saying, “OK, let’s just stick with franchise and brands. So they’re creating this vacuum. But in 18 months’ time, they’ll suddenly be like, “Oh, what about all those people that wanted films like ‘No Country,’ ‘Capote’ and ‘There Will Be Blood?’ What happened to all of that?’
So you think there’ll be a backlash.
Yeah, look, people said of the book, “It’s so grim and dark!” But it’s the single most translated book of modern times. Why is that? Because there’s more to it than that. To me, that’s a sign that people do want to think about things and be moved.