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There are very few works of 20th-century American literature that can
be called indispensable to our understanding of our culture. And one of
these few is Jack Kerouac's On the Road. As everyone knows, it's the
thinly-veiled autobiographical account of Kerouac and his friends in
their pointless but exuberant adventures across America. For 50 years,
it's been waiting to be made into a movie. Now, at last.
So, everyone already knows the story well, no; chances are, if you're like me, you read the book and yet remember almost nothing of the story. The book burns through its shreds of storyline as if they were just tinder for the blaze of its energy; the real fuel is the pacing, even with all its redundancy. It's the momentum that sucks us into the breathless chaos of Kerouac's world. We come away impressed by the energy, not the content.
Film could certainly have been used to amplify this effect, but this is not that film. Instead, we have a more conventional treatment, focusing on character development. It's a nice production, with an attractive cast. But the story comes at us very differently from the book experience. The manuscript has been rewritten to add breathing space and objectivity. We see Sal Paradise, only half-formed at the start of the story, pull himself together to become a serious writer. We see the endlessly exuberant Dean Moriarity ultimately coming to grips with the progressive self- destruction attributable to his amorality, and suffering. This might be a fair reading of Kerouac's ultimate feelings about that part of his life, but it's not the feeling that Kerouac shares with us in the book. We have lost our innocence; our last chance to revisit it, even for a few hours, is taken away.
I'm not going to rage against this re-conception of the story, though, because it makes other changes from the book that might be improvements. Several episodes that were censored from the book are restored in the film. (Some discussion of this at http://www.univie.ac.at/Anglistik/easyrider/data/BeatEros.htm). So the movie is more historically accurate, and far more sexually explicit than the book. (That could also explain its delayed US release). In one poignant scene, Carlos Marx (Allen Ginsberg) is whining to Sal about how vulnerable he feels due to his poorly-returned love for Dean. To the best of my recollection, that conversation was not in the book (please tell me if you believe otherwise), but was expressed in a private letter from Ginsberg to Kerouac many years after the fact. This kind of thing changes the emotional flow of the story, certainly, but it adds depth, too.
Few of us will actually suffer nostalgia for the gritty overindulgences of the Beats. But remember, this came at a time when society was absolutely saturated with the message that everyone should be "normal," safe, predictable. Without the tiny minority of Beats attacking that message, and specifically without On The Road to chronicle that attack, the cultural revolution of the 1960's would have been even more difficult than it was, and perhaps less effective. Good, bad, or ugly, we must embrace this story.
I will try to be as short as I can be in my review, but I am just very surprised about the very positive reviews on IMDb. For me this was another huge disappointment. yes there are great landscapes, the photography is nice and the actors surely are OK, the music is often inspiring, but even if the movie basically tells the same events as in the book, I found it pretty boring, and above all the spirit of the book, about freedom etc, was completely gone. Too many scenes are just taken inside hotels rooms, houses etc, isn't this movie entitled on the road? Again, regarding the spirit of freedom, in the book surely wasn't all about sex and multiple partners etc, because that's not at all the freedom Jack Kerouac was talking about when he wrote it, these components have been way too much highlighted. I am sorry but I left the cinema pretty disappointed, if we had to wait all these year for a version of the book, and this is the result, well it would have been better to only have the book.
The On The Road novel has inspired numerous readers, myself included to
take an American road trip. Will the film have the same effect? I
sincerely doubt it. And herein lays the problem. Whilst the book takes
the reader on an exuberant, spirited journey full of life, the film
puzzlingly slows the pace right down and presents a muted, almost
depressed version of the same story.
This is best illustrated by the presentation of the character of Dean Moriarty. He should be the driving force of the story, pushing the storyline on with his crazed excitement for the good and bad in life. On the printed page he can barely speak fast enough to get all his thoughts out. However in the film he huffs and puffs his way from one scene to the next, speaking in a laconic drawl, whilst lacking all the charm and charisma that is supposed to make him so alluring. He is the muse for the writer character of Sal, but anyone coming to the film fresh without having read the book, may well struggle to understand why.
The film lacks a rounded sense of the hedonistic side of the journey. The sex is arguably overplayed and whilst there is some drugs and jazz, there is little of the booze. Crucially the characters rarely seem to be having a good time. The film seems to focus on the melodramatic, miserable aspects of the characters lives at the destinations they travel to, but fails to contrast this with wild and exciting times spent on the road. The film does not convey a sense of travelling for the journeys sake; they always just seem to be in the car in order to get to another destination. The only time the film gets anywhere near the free spirited adventure of the book is when the characters reach Mexico in the later stages of the film, but this is too little too late.
I did wonder whether the muted atmosphere of the film was a deliberate ploy of the filmmakers, however the last ten minutes would indicate not. Here we see the character of Sal typing up the notes he has made during the road trips, seemingly franticly typing to capture all the wild, fun, crazy times had on the road. However this does not reflect what the viewer has just witnessed on screen for the past two hours.
Taken on its own terms the film does offer fine cinematography, costume and the look of the time, as well as some decent acting (hence my score of 5 out of 10). However as an adaption of a seminal piece of literature, it deserves to be judged against the source material and in not capturing the true spirit of the book, it is a big fail.
For the record, I'm a big Kerouac fan. However, I don't think On the
Road was his best work. I like his later, more introspective writing,
but I know I'm in the minority here. There's a good reason why we had
to wait so long for a screen version of On the Road. Impossible as it
may be to believe, some novels are not written with potential movie
rights in mind. On the Road is a sometimes rambling, stream of
consciousness, string of vignettes without a clear goal in mind. It is
a novel about hedonistic-death-driving on America's highways in a quest
for life and a run from it. For the members of Kerouac's (Sal
Paradise's) group, life is controlled self-destruction because death is
preferable to boredom. These attitudes spring from the times in which
the reality of potential nuclear disaster hung over the nation and the
attitudes so induced found expression in youth who turned the
directionlessness of life into life for the moment.
Making a film on such a book requires selection. Kerouac's hedonistic rampage across America, as selected by director Walter Salles, looks more mindless and sex-spiced than it did in the novel. Kerouac, as we see in his later works, was a hedonist with a conscience; a deadly combination which likely led to him drinking himself to death. Director Salles sees what he wants to see, a sex-crazed, drug-crazed, two-dimensional man. If this was truly the man represented in the novel, the novel would not have had the enduring quality that has made it literature.
I liked the way the 1950s was captured in the film. It was as close to perfection as you could get. The importance of jazz with its improvisation mirrors the lives of the travelers. The acting is good but the interaction is not. Maybe that was the point. There is no need for interaction in an age when the highest morality was based on selfishness. The movie may be okay to watch once, but I would prefer not to go down this road again.
Here's a confession: I've read the novel by Kerouac twice, but wasn't
rally impressed. I could appreciate the sense of freedom and endless
opportunities, and the effect this must have had on the generation of
the fifties and sixties, but I also found the story tedious after the
first few chapters.
So I was curious about the movie: would Walter Salles be able to turn this legendary but rather monotonous novel into a good film? The answer, unfortunately is: no. In short, the films shows a bunch of young people enjoying booze, dope, girls, jazz, speeding and shoplifting. They go from one city to another, but it doesn't really matter: wherever they are, they do the same things. After the first hour, you start to hope for some story development, but there is none. This is especially annoying because the movie goes on for more than two hours. In the end, it's just a repetition of the same themes in different settings.
The film follows the book rather scrupulously, and I think this is a wrong choice. The book needs more adaptation to make it suitable for the big screen. More than anything else, it needs a plot.
Of course, there are also positive things about the movie. It's a nice period film about the forties. The acting is fine, with good performances by Twilight-famed Kristen Stewart and especially Garrett Hedlund, a lesser known actor who could be quite a revelation.
This film will certainly not become as legendary in cinematography as the book has become in literature. But then again, that's almost impossible.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The nutshell people, is this: the screenwriter, director and producer
all fail to grasp the existential nature of Kerouac's writing which
was, and still is, its whole point.
To get the novel you need to blur your focus slightly, think about the more esoteric and the context of the time of when it was written. Kerouac put forth his own personal spiritual reality and also that of the spiritual connection between himself and other characters without implying how he, or the reader, should be thinking or feeling which leaves the reader resonating with philosophical questions. Does anything mean anything? Does loving someone who doesn't return that love mean anything? What is love? Are we just pawns in a greater spiritual reality? Should we care? If so, why?
The book and these questions were part of a spark that started a shift towards youthful self-consciousness, greater questioning of western life and human realities that has endured to the present day.
This aspect of Kerouac's work is the quintessential element his admirers praise and respect him for and this movie fails completely to illustrate this most important part. In fact it seems as though it was not even attempted or omitted on purpose.
The movie also fails to illustrate the broader context of the time it was written as well: the concept of piercing through the two dimensional American cultural reality of the time and breaking through into a freer space, rebelling against the rules society has laid down for you and in turn sparking thoughts in people's minds of how the future could be one where minds were more open, standards were questioned and prejudices overcome. This same shift in thinking and questioning contemporaneous norms added fuel to the fires of the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti- War Movement. Kerouac was someone who helped spark a wave that reached its peak in the late 60s over a decade after the publishing of On The Road but disappointingly you will get none of this from the movie.
Instead, this movie stands for everything the book doesn't; a dressed up, soulless vacuum of a period piece that doesn't really go anywhere with any discernible purpose. It alienates the viewer within the first half dozen scenes instead of drawing them in with that friendly 'best- buddy-you-never-had' Kerouac familiarity.
Many people new to the Beats and to Kerouac will leave this movie feeling that they just don't get what all the fuss was about and that's because this movie goes nowhere near doing justice to either of these institutions.
For Kerouac 'true believers' (of which I am obviously one) who respect the importance of his work, this movie will be an affront as it is brought to the screen by people who were not capable of representing him or the work on screen.
For road trip fans this movie will hit most of the right buttons and therefore there will be some positive reviews as you see here.
My feeling is that regardless of previous achievements and my overwhelming respect for producer and director, the makers of this film should be ashamed of themselves in bringing this movie to the screen without capturing the soul of the book and the man who wrote it. You can only assume that they didn't get that aspect or chose to leave it out because it was too hard to realise. However, I simply cannot believe Coppola viewed this film in its entirety prior to release and Salles seems to have over-estimated his ability to turn this seminal, universal masterpiece into a movie. It simply just isn't worthy.
Hemingway was terrified of being boring. Compared to Hemingway, Kerouac
was completely & utterly fearless.
So let's take a page out one of Kerouac's best books, start at the beginning, & let the truth seep out.
I first encountered "On the Road" in the public library when I was in 6th grade. It spawned a fascination, an obsession, an addiction. Between the age of 12 & 18, outside of school, the Beat writers were all that I read. I devoured them. And in the years since my youth Kerouac has morphed from an obsession to a comfort author, I read him to help cushion the blows life brings. "Maggie Cassidy," is still my favorite.
That being said, I walked into this flick with extremely low expectations. I'm more than familiar with the source material & couldn't see how it could translate into anything but a dull film. I expected the film to stagnate. I wasn't really disappointed in this. Anyone that has read "On the Road" has to question the wisdom of attempting to translate that into a decent movie.
Like the novel, there are parts of this film you just have to fight through in the hopes that he'll move off his love for grape picking & into something interesting again.
The plus side is, once you make it past the stagnation, the plot picks up again & you feel the sense of freedom having overcome the monotony of Kerouac. But on the other-hand, I'm fairly certain that's the point.
The bottom line is that if you are familiar with Travelin' Jack you know what to expect before you walk into the film & you walk out with an experience far better than you would have thought it's be. It's an enjoyable film.
However, if you're like most of the world & for some reason do not read, you'll be expecting the legend without understanding the reality & you will hate it, for no other reason than the lack of background necessary to expect Kerouac to be, well, Kerouac.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this movie yesterday in a art-house cinema. It's a lovely
setting for this movie, small and intimate, I don't think big cinematic
rooms with a 100 muttering teens won't do this movie any justice.
Before I start off, I haven't read the book so I won't judge on how well it's transfered to a script. To me, maybe because I haven't read the book the movie was quite difficult to follow as it felt that a true story line was missing. it was just a bunch of lost youngsters trying to find the essence of living a life. The whole movie felt like somebody was telling a story about how to make and loose friends in a split decision and how to ruin your life royally.
I absolutely loved Tom Sturridge. He plays this gay poet with so much depth and essence. You can see he really tries to feel what Carlo has felt.
I also think it was one of Kristen Stewart's best performances. the way her story flows through the movie is refreshing. You see Marylou grow and develop the realization that even with all the living, life filled with sex and drugs isn't full filling her needs and that she needs more. It's well played and Stewart just embodies the sexuality that is needed in this movie.
I loved Hedlund's performance... he was clear in his emotions. though I really didn't like the character, Hedlund made me feel sorry for him in the end.
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by Riley's performance. I felt it lacked emotional dept at moments were I thought it had to be more. especially the moments he spend behind the typing machine or with his family.
Overall it was not my type of movie but a good choice if you want something different than the straight forward happy ending blockbusters...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a brilliant adaptation!
The very beginning of the movie sets the tone, and shows Kerouac walking, and walking, different locations.
From this very beginning, Walter Salles captures the essence itself of Kerouac's work.
He may not stick to every passage of it, which would probably prove quite tedious to follow in a movie, yet he keeps what is necessary, the essence, the purpose of it all. Living fully, enjoying life to its fullest.
Sam Riley as Jack Kerouac is incredible, a raspy voice, gleeful, mischievous, eyes full of sparkle, he makes it entirely believable, and is highly likable.
Garrett Hedlund, a very talented actor (as he has proved it in Death Sentence, Four Brothers) shines bright as Neal Cassady, full of charisma, virility, and true madness. There is a fantastic energy absolutely suited to the character, a very difficult character to portray, a madman.
Hedlund is an absolute standout and is both riveting and heartbreaking, notably so at the end of the movie.
Kristen Stewart is glowing, both beautiful and highly sensual (very torrid scenes showcase this), she proves something that most people seem to have forgotten with the Twilight series, that she is extremely talented.
Tom Sturridge is impressive as Allen Gisberg, both vulnerable and crazy in a sense.
The cinematography is outstanding, and it is a sight to behold, beautiful landscapes, a smooth, delicate filmic texture.
This movie will divide, whether people appreciate the book, or they don't.
It leaves a mark on me, it goes to my heart, as the book did.
As Jack repeats those last words "I think of Dean Moriarty, I think of Dean Moriarty", intertwined with Neal looking afar, tears running down, my heart sinks, riveted as I am, as if paralyzed by those last words, my eyes fixated on the screen, I can't move because I think of Dean Moriarty, I think of Neal Cassady.
Walter Salles has made another beautiful, captivating, moving film. 'On The Road' is a close adaptation of Kerouac's famous novel which came to define the beat movement. Sticking to the fictional character names of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise (this feels historically faithful as these are the names used in the book up until a recent re-edition of the original text) we follow Sal's attempts to find 'it' in his travels across America, and through his relationships, and his attempts to write a meaningful work of art. Sam Riley is brilliant in the central role; natural, sympathetic, captivating. All the other actors are excellent. What is the real strength of this film is the unpretentious film-making which resists drawing attention to the wealth of talent involved in making it, is it perhaps the perfection of this film which has tempted reviewers to pick holes or invent flaws, like a true beauty it is sometimes hard for others to resist trying to destroy or defile it? Cinema magic is rare, shame people have trouble recognizing it when they have it in front of them.
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