[Film] On the Road

Last night we went and saw the new film “On the Road”.

I first tackled the book by Jack Kerouac in 1987 in an effort to understand my brother who had spent six months hitch-hiking around Australia after he read it. Books that change your life are rare and deserving of respect – I was envious of his freedom. Is there a country where women can set off for a life on the road alone and not expect grief? I still envy that freedom – as women, we’re always women first and people second (so unfair).

The book frustrated me: every line I was waiting for something to happen and it never did. I put the book away.

Fast forward to 2011 and Matt Dillon is reading the book to me via my new favourite thing, the audiobook. Here’s an excerpt, so you’ll know what I mean. Is there is a better choice? I downloaded it to my ipod and started listening during – appropriately – a road trip. I love road trips, there are few things that will make me happier than a road to wherever, music (and now audiobook) and a full tank of petrol.

Sadly I neglected to turn off the shuffle function so the first hour was all over the place. That’s right – I listened to an hour of random chapters without realising the order was all wrong. As my poet-husband pointed out, Burroughs would have been impressed. It says a lot about OtR and the structure.

I listened over and over, occasionally referring to Wikipedia and the cast list of who really was who. It made it more real to visualise the real people behind the characterisations. Audiobooks bring a new dimension to books, they’re also a great way to catch up on your reading when you’re not actually able to read.

When I heard about the upcoming film I felt trepidation: here was a story that many people hold close to their hearts. Few films do credit to their literary sources. The trailers looked promising – what I was hoping for was something that would capture a mood, supply the be-bop music and give us great American vistas. Show us poverty and grit, decadence and poetry.

So – last night – did they pull it off? It’s not a perfect film but mostly I think they’ve succeeded. I have small quibbles: don’t expect much of the women characters, their roles have been reduced and the one conversation between three women is predictably about pleasing your man – but they’ve found post-War America and haven’t shirked from the seedier side. Actually, they’ve spiced up the sex and drugs significantly but we know that Kerouac wasn’t always honest with those aspects (the joy of a fictionalised autobiography).

The cast is great – every one is universally strong. The core is Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty – his hypnotic charismatic energy almost vibrates. Everyone else is like a moth to his flame. His behaviour is appalling of course, but you miss him when he’s not on screen.

The last scene between Dean and Sal/Kerouac is one of the few that isn’t faithful to the book and the reality of lives well documented – a conceit for modern audiences? Endings are important and they’re not always happy ones.

It’s been a long time coming but if you loved the book, the film should satisfy. See it on the big screen to appreciate the fabulous cross-country scenery. Here’s Kristen Stewart as Marylou. Her best scene is a poignant one, easily missed as she reflects on the nature of her relationship with Dean.

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