A wide shot of a desolate wasteland with the stars of the film in the centre

Prepper movie breakdown – The Road (2009)

Preppers, like most other people, love a good disaster movie, however as preppers we get an extra layer of enjoyment out of it as we can a) get tips and ideas from what fictional preppers/survivors are doing and b) laugh at their mistakes.

This is the first of my movie breakdowns, this time around I’ll be reviewing 2009’s ‘The Road’, starring Viggo Mortensen as ‘Man’, Charlize Theron as ‘Woman’ and Kodi Smitt-McPhee as ‘Boy’.

This is a must-watch movie and has some stellar performances, but be warned; it’s an incredibly tough film to watch and you may feel like every last bit of joy has been burned out of you by the time it’s over.

This should go without saying but just in case:

Here be spoilers!

What’s the disaster?

The nature of the disaster in this film is left purposefully obscure, however if you look at the world as it exists 9-10 years later (which seems to be the timeframe of the film) and you take into account the limited things you can see/hear outside during the catastrophe, it’s a fairly safe guess that it was one of two possible scenarios:

1) A supervolcano eruption, most likely the Yellowstone Caldera with this taking place in America.

2) A meteor strike

I’m going to guess that it’s a meteor strike as a supervolcano, whilst certainly devastating to the US and also something that will have an impact on the rest of the world. It’s not something that’s likely to kill off plant life the whole world over.

A meteor strike isn’t likely to completely kill everything off either (depending on it’s size) but that is more possible.

Was the protagonist prepared?

It’s hard to tell, they seem to have survived quite well for the better part of a decade without leaving the house all that much (or at all as the Woman states that she doesn’t want to see what it’s like out there – at least suggesting that she hasn’t gone outside).

The Man had good instincts, as soon as he gathered something was wrong, he filled the bathtub up with water and started concerning himself with survival. This would suggest to me that he’s at least thought about it a bit in the past.

What good ideas can we take from The Road?

1) Insects are a great food source

They are high in protien and are incredibly hardy, if you find yourself without food then your first priority should be to find insects as a handful of them could keep you alive for another week or two.

2) Water is life

The Man made sure that clean drinking water was one of his top priorities. That was smart, remember the rule of threes. A person can go 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without warmth, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. So having water as one of your top priorities is a must.

3) Stay warm

You can die of exposure in 3 hours (see above) so it’s absolutely vital that you stay warm. Both the Man and the Boy had a lot of layers on and made building a fire high on their list of things to do when setting up camp.

Remember that you can add to your warmth by padding out your clothing with paper, card or plastic bags, the idea is to trap as much air as possible next to your body and multiple layers is the best way to do that.

4) We wary of other people

The Man carried a gun and was always cautious of other people. OpSec would be very important in this world as food is an incredibly scarce resource. Plus as we have seen, there are a lot of cannibals now and a young boy would make a fantastic meal.

5) Using ammo sparingly

If you are going to rely on a ranged weapon to protect yourself then you can’t ever waste ammo.

Often the sight of a gun pointed at someones face is enough to terrify most people into submission, there is no need to prove that the gun is loaded.

The same goes with arrows, if you have a bow or a slingbow, only fire the arrow if you intend to wound or kill your target. There is nothing to be gained from a warning shot.

On the same subject, don’t go in for the wound or kill immediately, assess the situation to make sure you actually need to fire in the first place.

6) Don’t immediately remove a projectile that has penetrated your skin.

When the Man gets shot in the leg with an arrow, I suspect most people were urging him to pull it out as fast as possible. However as soon as he did that, he would start to bleed out.

Waiting until he was able to deal with the wound properly was the right call. Especially as it was a wide-tipped arrow and pulling it out would have caused even more damage than it going in would have caused.

7) Accept your own mortality

The Man was fully aware that he wasn’t going to make it, this was especially clear after being shot with the arrow.

He took the time to show his son how to scavenge, how to build a fire and made sure he was largely able to take care of himself, knowing that he was not long for this world.

I would argue that he could have shown him more but perhaps those lessons happened ‘off screen’.

Mistakes the characters made

1) Destroying the piano

The Woman was clearly having a mental breakdown, her old way of life was gone and not only did she have to live in this new hell, she’d also brought a child into it. The Man put too much of an emphasis on survival that he forgot to live.

Burning the piano for firewood took away one of the few entertainment items that was left. Not only that, it also tarnished some cherished memories that they both had and probably did a lot to contribute to her suicidal state.

What could they have done instead?

As we saw from the rest of the film, there was bracken everywhere, dead trees burn very easily and dead grass makes great tinder when dried out. There is no way they would have had enough food in that house to last them nearly a decade so at least one of them must have gone out foraging, it makes little sense to burn the piano when there is plenty of burnable material outside.

2) Filtering water incorrectly.

We’ve seen that the Man made a campfire every time they stopped for a rest, it would have made sense that he’d kept some charcoal aside for filtering. Instead he boiled water and then poured it through a cotton cloth straight into a plastic bottle.

Not only is this not the best way to purify water, the heat from the boiling water would also cause the plastic to degrade, at best causing them to lose their bottle and at worst, introducing toxic chemicals into their system.

What could they have done instead?

Making a proper filter isn’t that hard, he had all the materials around him. He should have boiled the water and let it cool and then put his cotton cloth in the bottle as before but then put charcoal over that, folded the cotton over the top of the charcoal and put some earth on top of that and then poured the water over it.

Or, even better, run the water through the filter, then boil it and once it’s cooled, pour the water into the bottle through another cloth filter, that way you an even be certain that most of the sediment from the water and most of the contaminants will have either been killed or will be in the filter (don’t forget to wash or replace the filter regularly though!)

3) Staying on the road.

Ok so I know that the title of the film is ‘The Road’ and that the protagonists were trying to head south to the coast, however staying on the road is a dangerous prospect in this world as it’s where you are the most likely to run into other people.

What should they have done instead?

They had a map and it wouldn’t have taken long to learn how to tell which way north was if the Man had even a basic level of intelligence (most people know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West and most people are capable of recognising star patterns, both can be used to navigate once you’ve gotten used to relative positions). Use their map, they could have avoided the roads quite easily.

There is a caveat to this situation though, the reason why people stick to the roads is because that’s also the best way to find resources that people may have left behind (either by the road or at places the roads lead to) so they still would have to be aware of how far away the roads are from their positions.

5) Drinking that can of coke

I’m not about to harp on about how sugar is poison but what I will say is that a can of coke contains a crazy amount of sugar. Even a body that is used to a sugar-rich diet doesn’t know how to handle as much sugar that a can of coke contains.

A body which has probably never had that much sugar in their lives (certianly not for a long time) would face a huge sugar high and then an even bigger sugar crash. The Boy would have probably also thrown it up again within a few hours, meaning he’d end up losing more fluid than he’d gained.

Lastly, coke has zero nutritional value so although it might have been a treat, it will certainly not have done him any good.

What should they have done instead?

By all means drink it if you need the treat, but not all at once and definitely share it between the two of you. I’d have decanted it into a bottle if possible and drank it over the course of a few days. In fact it would have been good to use as a little energy boost from time-to-time.

6) Leaving the shelter too early

Now this one is contentious, some people say he shouldn’t have left at all and some (especially those who have read the book and saw a slightly different scenario play out) say he should have left when he did, if not sooner.

However, based purely on the movie, he was an idiot to leave that soon. I will conceede that he knew he was dying and he wanted to give his son the best chance in life but they were both starving and neither of them were in the best of health so leaving just because he got spooked was a bad idea.

What should they have done instead?

They should have stayed until they had managed to feel rested, healthy and had some meat on their bones again.

Obviously they couldn’t have stayed in the shelter forever, there was maybe a year or two’s supply of food there, tops. Plus it looks like the shelter had no washing facilities and the electric wasn’t working anymore.

However, nobody had discovered that shelter in nearly a decade, it would have been even less likely once the mattress covered the entrance. If they had stayed there for maybe a month, they would have grown fatter and stronger, plus they would have been in much better health. It’s even possible that the illness that was killing the Man would have subsided, we saw that there was medicine in there so that might have been enough to cure him.

If that had been me, I would have stayed there until I’d come close to running out of food or warmth, then I’d have packed up as much as I could carry and only then would I have left the shelter.

Yes, in the film leaving the shelter turned out to be a good thing, but that’s a film which has a narrative structure, real life does not and in real life, leaving would have probably just resulted in a quicker death for them both.

7) Eating big meals

Starvation is a bitch, after a few days of hunger, your body stops telling you that you are hungry, after about a week of not eating, your body actually forgets how to process food properly and has to be eased back into it, otherwise you’d just throw it up.

Eating those big meals would have made them feel very ill, in fact it looked like they were not far from death due to starvation so the shock of all that food could have even been enough to kill them.

What they should have done instead.

Once they found the shelter, they should have slowly reintroduced food into their lives. They should have shared a tin of vegetables, slowly working their way through the can over the course of an hour or so.

Then, the next day, eat another tin of veg but this time have one each, again, eating it slowly. Every day, they should increase the amount of food they ate until they were having one or two full meals a day. After that they should have a strong enough system to handle the food.

Even then though, the bigger the meals they have, the less time their food will last.

8) Relying on a gun for defence

The Man carried a pistol with two bullets, the idea being that if it came to it, he would kill his son and himself so they didn’t have to suffer the horrors of what might befall them otherwise.

However he carried nothing else, relying on a weapon which requires ammunition means that you are relying on a finite resource. Guns are all well and good if you’re expecting limited resistance and then for the world to go back to normal eventually. However they are useless for long term survival.

Also guns have a massive downside, they are loud as hell. So using your weapon would possibly draw unwanted attention. A quiet weapon would allow for quiet kills (if you are sufficiently skilled in it, of course)

What should they have done instead?

A melee weapon would have been a smart option, a machete or an axe would have been the best tool, remember to keep it sharp though!

If you must have a ranged weapon then carry a sling-bow, they are good for hunting and if you get good enough, you could use it as an offensive weapon as well. It also has a bonus of a) being silent and b) using an ammunition source that you can make yourself from natural resources (wooden arrows).

9) Leaving his child defenseless

There are at least two times he needlessly left his son defenseless.

1) When he was sat in his parents house and suggested that his son wait outside

2) When he went to scavenge the shipwreck on the beach

The first is the worst offense as there was literally no good reason to tell his kid to go outside but I’ll focus on the second offense as this is a tad more justifiable.

So he goes out to the wreck, whilst he is there he leaves his son to sleep in their tent. This not only leaves his son defenceless (he has the gun but only knows to use it to kill himself if need be and it only has one shot at this point anyway) but he also leaves ALL of their supplies defenceless and I do mean all, he goes into the sea stark naked.

Unsurprisingly while his camp is without a protector, the son gets ripped off, as he’s asleep at the time he doesn’t even notice that it’s happening and wakes up to find everything but his groundsheet has been stolen. The kid was lucky that the guy was just an opportunistic looter and not something much, worse.

What they could have done instead?

This one is so bloody basic it’s kind of ridiculous that it happened. At all times, someone should be on point. Especially when you are in open and unknown territory.

If the Man had to leave the Boy behind for a while (and frankly I question his decision to loot the ship in the first place) then they should have made the effort to hide the camp, in fact they should have dismantled the camp so they were ready to move at a moments notice. At the very least, the boy should have been instructed to remain awake in order to keep watch.

This was such a stupid error that it makes me question how they stayed alive for so long in the first place.

10) Being hostile to everyone

Being wary is important but the Man went out of his way to be overly hostile to everyone he met. Ely wouldn’t have had anything to eat if not for the Boy begging his dad and what the Man did to the Vagrant was just purely vindictive. Yes the Vagrant stole from them but leaving him literally naked and alone was cruel and un-called for. (Sure I know the Boy convinced the Man to return the items to the spot they left the Vagrant but let’s be realistic here, what are the chances that the Vagrant ever went back to that spot).

What should they have done instead?

Be cautious, of course and don’t trust people too easily but help others if you are capable of doing so without jeopardising your own survival and for God’s sake, don’t go out of your way to harm or upset others.

You never know when you will be the one who needs to suckle on the teat of human kindness. If you’re not willing to show any yourself then how can you expect others to do so.

How did they do, overall?

They made a lot of mistakes but to be honest, the world they were dropped into isn’t survivable, there are very few animals left in the world and plants don’t grow anymore. If that’s true everywhere then that means the planet has died and there is zero chance of long term survival, their best bet would have been staying in the shelter and just staying alive as long as possible.

However if the world isn’t as bad as it appears (we could be seeing a particularly bad nuclear winter in the film) then maybe, someday the skies will clear a bit and plants will start to return, if plants return then the dwindling animal population could also bounce back and a new, survivable world could emerge.

All in all in spite of some pretty glaring mistakes, the Man acheived his objective of getting his son to the coast. He even managed to inadvertently leave his son to a family who seem to be doing better than he was and so will hopefully be able to provide his son with a better future.

You can’t really do better than that.