October 12th, 2012
Francis Ford Coppola
Based on Jack Kerouac’s novel ‘On the Road’
Summary: ‘On the Road’ tells the story of young deep-thinking writer Sal Paradise and his relationship with the wild Dean Moriarty – the epitome of the Beat Generation. The pair embark on a journey across America with Dean’s lover Marylou - encountering various interesting people and events along the way. The group (whose only consistent members are Sal and Dean) manage to leave their mark wherever they go. The film follows scenes from the book that has not yet been writing – we see Sal begin to write in the final scene.
My Favourite Scene: An interesting scene in ‘On the Road’ is where Marylou is talking to Sal while driving, with Dean sleeping in the back of the car. Marylou is saying how she wants a normal life with a house and a baby, and that she knows Dean will leave her soon. Dean then wakes up grinning and says ‘I just had a great idea. You guys are gonna love it.’
This scene shows the impact of Dean Moriarty. While Marylou knows Dean will never give her what she wants and that he won’t stay with her, she still stays with him. This seemed to be the case with so many of the people Dean encountered. They knew that they would get nothing from him, and some even knew he would cause them pain in the end, but his free-spirit and approach to life was enough to want to keep him in their lives.
My Favourite Quotes:
Dean Moriarty: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I do all these dumb things and think in all these distorted ways. And now I’m burning up.”
Sal Paradise: “The only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
My Thoughts: After reading ‘On the Road’ (which is one of the best novels I’ve ever read) I was very interested to see how Salles’ would translate the journey into a film. In fact, while in San Francisco earlier this year I saw the car that was used in this film in the Beat Museum – which is definitely worth a visit if anyone ever visits San Francisco! I bought tickets to watch the UK premiere of the film at the British Library and left disappointed, but reminded of the essence of the Beat Generation.
I definitely felt that ‘On the Road’ powerfully displayed the way of life of the Beat Generation. It portrayed the free-spiritedness and love of experiencing life that makes them such a fascinating group of people. However it also showed how easily this can damage. Dean Moriarty (based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady) felt absolutely no responsibility towards anyone. In the end, neither of his wives could deal with his one-sided view of sexual liberation. Indeed much of the behaviour in the film shows a distinctly repressive attitude towards women. Dean felt that it was fine to leave his wife to care for their child while he and Sal went out for the night. Although there were women involved with the creation of Beat philosophy and literature, they remained marginalized and insignificant in comparison.
As always, a film which has been made out of a book can never meet expectations. I felt that some very significant elements of the novel were missing. In the novel, the scenes seemed to mould together and create a world. The film didn’t quite have the same effect. Much of it felt repetitive and directionless. However many would say that this echoes the spirit of the drifting journey in ‘On the Road’. I did feel that a strong part of the film was the way in which jazz music was used in the evocation of the Beat Generation, as was the presentation of a 1950s America of ‘Jitterbugging’, bebop and open roads rather than freeways.
Overall, I couldn’t help but feel that this film dragged on (I subsequently discovered that it had been cut by 15 minutes following the Cannes premiere!) I think it would have worked better if Salles had adapted the novel more – telling the story of Sal’s journey in a different way. This would have made it more interesting. The story works well in the world created by the novel, but not so much as a film. I found ‘On the Road’ entertaining but not inspirational.