Skip to content

On the Road: Capturing Lighting in a Bottle Twice

August 17, 2013

On the Road movie poster

Much like Walter Salle’s The Motorcycle Diaries, The Open Road is a wonder to behold. It pleases the eyes as it travels across the United States in search of whatever the narrator craves at the moment. However, like all road trips that begin with jubilation they end with tedium and an urgency to get to the end. On the Road stays true to Kerouac’s writing but can’t capture the manic energy and becomes a slog through two hours of post war human discovery. The cinematography is beguiling because it masks the aimlessness of the story.  The beautiful vistas, clubs and open roads are captured magically while keeping the viewer from realizing that not much is going on. So, as Sal, Dean and Marylou head towards the real world the beautiful open road disappears and the film encloses upon the domestication/fall of the adventurous heroes.

On the Road is based on Jack Kerouac’s travels across the United States and was published in 1957. Along the way he experiences life, liberty and copious amounts of sex and drugs. Kerouac and Co. traveled the world looking to find their way outside of the mainstream and put it into prose. When the book was released The New York Times said it was  “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.”

So, you have a classic book that is loved by many and you have to turn it into a film. Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera made the wonderful 2004 movie The Motorcycles Diaries and worked for several years to bring On the Road to screen. They had their adapting work cut out for them as Truman Capote once famously reviewed the book as “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” The director/writer duo traveled the states looking to capture the spirit, look and vibe of a rambling mess. They captured the naturalism and style but failed to imbue the audience with the danger, self discovery and unhappiness that comes with the open road.

Adapting classical literature involving atypical characters (Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Confederacy of Dunces) will always be a challenge. The source material has to be revered but updated to today’s audiences. Salles once again proves that he can make literature beautiful to behold. However, despite the director/actor’s hard work you are never immersed in the world and all of Kerouac’s energy is lost amidst the open road. The love, sweat and direction is all there but lightning can’t be captured twice.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: