On The Road

TOMMY SHANE despairs at this vacuous adaptation.

america intellectual Kristen Stewart r-patz sam riley strurridge the motorcycle diaries tom sturridge

I know exactly what was going through the minds of the board room when they considered this new adaptation of On The Road: ‘yeeeeeeeh… let’s cast Kristen Stewart. Would it be bad if we got R-Patz involved too?’ Essentially, it’s cool to like On The Road, and that is why this film was made.

A part of me feels like people stopped writing cool books after the 60s, and now directors have to flounce about with mediocrity like Perks of Being a Wallflower … and Twilight.

But the truth is that On The Road is a cool book. It’s brilliant. It captures a burgeoning literary excitement, an inspiring zest for life and an enthusiasm for intellectualism – basically, the time in which all English students probably wished they were living.

And there are times when Walter Salles’ film captures this. But usually they are empty sentiments falling on all too deaf ears. Ours is an anti-intellectual generation, where education is vilified as privilege, and learning is dismissed as pretence, and that showed in this film.

Despite the claims of the main character, Dean Moriarty, spending ‘a third of his life in the public library’, he appeared to be reading only one book throughout the entire film, quite detached from the Beat generation. Sal Paradise equally possessed no desire to discuss books, but only to romantically write them as he committed the necessary petty theft, cigarette smoking and whisky swigging that apparently go along with that process.

The 2010 film Howl, with the ‘ultra-cool’ James Franco, provided a much more sincere attempt to capture the intellectual side to the Beat generation, and the struggle for meaningful expression in an apparently meaningless age. Salles’ previous 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries goes even further, tracking the development of Che Guevara’s political thought on a similar road trip film, which has many genuinely moving moments.

But where Che Guevara learnt about the people around him, developing his desire to correct the injustice he saw in others, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty swan around America, indulging in nothing but themselves, occasionally flirting with homosexuality, which itself seems to be a form of narcissism.

Sam Riley, as much as I love him, provided a surprisingly flat and apathetic performance. He didn’t portray the infatuation with Dean that is so apparent in the book, an infatuation that is not so much for the man but the Beat movement itself. Instead, there was a strange level of emotional detachment and disinterest – probably because he was so concerned with himself.

This rendered the only interesting characters the women, despite the apparent attempts of Salles. Women are fucking nuisances that get in the way of my creative freedom, while harbouring these annoying expectations after I casually sleep with them – so seemed to be the view of the men in this film. Ironically, this made the women the most interesting. They were the victims of this self indulgence that the audience were supposed to swoon for. Kristen Stewart’s dead-behind-the-eyes vacant stares did nothing to capitalise on this; Kirsten Dunst, however, symbolised the oppressive nature of such disregard for others, ultimately imprisoned with the children Dean casually left her. But that’s ok, because Dean is really cool and handsome.

I ended up hating the characters I’d loved in the book, viewing them with far more critical eyes than I did first time around. But I think that’s because this was a cynical exploitation of the coolness associated with the book. Salles appeared to think that if he has enough Gus Van Sant-y shots of American landscapes with Sim Riley looking contemplative, then somehow it will provide the veneer of intellectual integrity necessary for the adaptation this book. But he’s wrong. Read the book; if you can’t be bothered, be inspired by the far superior Salles film, The Motorcycle Diaries, where people and intellectual thought actually matter.