A Road Trip through Road Movies: Part 3

Boy, we’ve been on the road some while, haven’t we?

Having already examined the road movies of the Thirties all the way to the Eighties, we’ve been hiding out in diners and motels under false names for the better part of a century.

That Cadillac convertible has taken a beating, hasn’t it? It’s probably a bit of a giveaway to the cops by now…

Well, I guess it’s time for the last stretch. Time to hit the state of Modern Road Movies of the Nineties to the present decade. Whether this journey will end with us dive-bombing of a cliff with the cops behind us, or wandering aimlessly around the British countryside looking for magical McGuffins, I don’t know. But you should definitely keep an eye out for raiders, regardless.

The Time: 1990s

The Film: Thelma and Louise (1991)

What’s it about?

Thelma, a woman stuck in a terrible marriage to a controlling idiot, and Louise, a bored waitress at a diner, set out on a vacation together to escape their drab lives for a couple of days. However, when Thelma is nearly raped, and Louise kills that man in retaliation, they become fugitives. From there on in things spiral further and further out of control.

Is it worth watching?

Thelma and Louise is an interesting film because it examines themes that get a lot of press today. Namely gender issues and the worrying state of modern day sexual politics.

The reason the two are forced to become fugitives is because, up until the attempted rape, Thelma is dancing and cuddling up to the bloke – in public view – at a bar. So, and the film is clear about this, people would find it hard-to-impossible to believe that she wasn’t ‘asking for it’. Despite the inherent absurdity of such notions.

There are other bits, too, which strike modern chords. After Louise has killed the man, and the two girls’ vacation is effectively ruined, Thelma makes an offhand remark, ‘Some holiday this is!’  A frustrated Louise snaps back ‘Well, if you hadn’t been so concerned with having a nice time (referring to Louise’s dancing with the man and refusing Thelma’s requests to leave) we wouldn’t be in this mess’. This unnerving example of ‘victim blaming’ hits hard in its total cruelty.

As a film and a piece of entertainment, it’s certainly worth seeing at least once. The plot and narrative flow well enough to keep you interested, and the politics make it rather refreshing. Even if some things about it, Nineties-specific things, are a tad cringe worthy.

What does it teach us about the Nineties?

It teaches us how worryingly fast fashion and tastes change. The Nineties, the decade in which I spent my formative years, might as well have been a different planet, how differently people dress and dance today.

Also, it teaches us that some trends in the Nineties were really bad. For example, how every movie had to have a soundtrack made up of at least a dozen different unknown artists all trying to make it big, but who all weren’t that good. I’m looking at you Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back!

Also, I really hope that having god-awful pop songs over sex scenes never becomes a thing again. It’s just awkward and embarrassing. Like your dad trying to flirt with your female friends.

What does it teach us about Road Movies?

You’d think that a film about two fugitives in the southern states of America would be loaded with Road Movie clichés. And in the case of Thelma and Louise you’d be right. But what Thelma and Louise does is that it uses the clichés of a genre to attempt to examine a modern and relevant political question.

A lot of popular Nineties movies used their tropes and clichés as a way to convey and underline their themes. It’s a practice called, ‘getting the crap under the radar’. By complying with the tropes of the genre to make the producers happy, and by simultaneously using the examinations of its clichés to make a point, everyone, including the director, scriptwriter, and critics, is happy. Thelma and Louise shows that the clichés of Road Movies can be very easily exploited to advance a modern point.

 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The Time: 2000s

The Film: The Road (2009)

What’s it about?

Based on the 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is set in a world where a natural disaster has killed of all the world’s plants and most of its animals. A few humans survive in this post-apocalyptic landscape. Two of them, a man and his son, must make their way to the coast while avoiding raiders, cannibals, and the elements, in order to find safety.

Is it worth watching?

No. Not really.

Brilliant cinematography, outstanding set design, and insightful direction is all let down by a terrible script and one of the most annoying children to be seen on the screen since Anakin from Star Wars Episode I.

“Are we good guys, Papa?”


What does it teach us about the Noughties?

While it’s probably too early to define the cinematic developments and defining traits of the Noughties, what this film tells us most is that people from the Noughties were really self-obsessed.

This film, full of whiny dialogue and actors trying really hard to emote, was nominated for awards up to its backside. Most likely because; A) it was based on the novel of a highly respected author, B) It was produced by a relatively small production house who probably needed a bit of helping out, and C) it dealt with environmental concerns in a really vague non-committal way.

If I’m actually being serious, this film shows how far – in terms of cinematic and production techniques – we’ve come since the 30s. Showcasing multiple types of shot and set pieces which could never have been pulled off in the wildest dreams of even the most ‘auteur’ of original Hollywood folk.

The tools on display are incredible. It’s just that the workman is still fallible.

What does it teach us about Road Movies?

It teaches us that Road Movies are universal.

The Road is an apocalypse movie set as a road movie. The Road shows that the Road Movie genre can be applied, and was beginning to be universally applied, as a part of films of very different genres that previously had been separate.

Which leads us very nicely to the last film on our journey.

The Time: This Decade

The Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2011)

What’s it about?

Harry Potter, along with his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, have been tasked with defeating the Dark Wizard, Voldemort. They have to do this by destroying seven pieces of his soul. These have been concealed within seven objects hidden in various different locations. When Voldemort overthrows the magical government, and gains control of the magical world, Harry and his friends must go on the run and live as fugitives. But it soon becomes apparent that this fugitive lifestyle threatens to tear them apart when they need each other the most.

Is it worth watching?

A lot of people were turned off by Harry Potter Part Seven. Mainly, I think, because of its Road Movie aspects. They felt the film possessed too much camping. Too little happening, too slowly.

Personally, I felt the main problem with the majority of the Harry Potter films was that they had too much going on, too quickly, as they tried to cram a whole book’s worth of material into one feature length film.

Liking Harry Potter Part Seven comes down to one thing. Do you like Road Movies? If you do, you’ll find a brilliant atmospheric and emotionally charged journey, through a beautifully-shot British landscape, which acts intelligently as a mirror for the protagonist’s burgeoning into adulthood.

Also you’ll find by far the best road movie on this list. I mean, seriously, by far.

What does it teach us about now?

That the Harry Potter Movie Series is an unprecedented piece of cinematic history.

Never before had there been a franchise which had made eight consecutive high profile releases.

It shows us that, if nothing else, serialisation is a worthwhile goal in big budget movies. With Marvel creating an entire universe of interconnected films, every teen novel series under the sun being made into film franchises, Warner Brothers trying desperately to create its own DC universe to match Disney’s Marvel, and the Star Wars series getting its next trilogy, we’re coming into an age where the ‘stand alone’ movie will be an exception at the Box Office. And also an age where ‘Nerd‘ properties are undeniably mainstream.

The future is here.

The future will be released in nine consecutive parts.

What does it teach us about Road Movies?

Harry Potter Part Seven is almost an amalgamation of all the prior developments of all the Road Movies in this article.

In it we see the character development and humour that the Road Movie genre gave to It Happened One Night. We see the constant threat and anxiety that Detour brought to the table and that being on the road presents. We see how the landscapes, and places the characters travel through, can become characters themselves, a la Bonnie and Clyde. We see the desolate depiction of homelessness and isolation in a European landscape that the Road Movie can be used to present, as it did in Vagabond.  We see the modern camera techniques and aesthetics that were utilised in The Road, and its understanding of how to meld Road Movies with other distinct genres.

Harry Potter Part Seven provides us with an answer to our original question. What is a Road movie?

A Road Movie is a movie that uses the movements of its characters to and from distinct locations as the main component of its character development and its drama. The drama usually being catalysed by a threat to its central characters.

So, with this final conclusion, our journey on the open road comes to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed your pancake stacks in American diners and long shots of wide expanses of countryside.

Wherever your next destination is – be it the southern states, the vineyards of France, an ecologically dead post-apocalyptic landscape – be sure to travel safe.

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