On The Road Review

We’re all searching for something, even if we don’t know what that something is.

And I guess most of those people end up On The Road.

Sal is a writer in need of inspiration, or maybe just a distraction.

With his father having died recently, Sal needs something to take his mind off of this.

And distractions don’t come much larger than life than Dean Moriarty.

Dean’s energy is a force of nature; he doesn’t need sleep, doesn’t need to eat and relies on his easy charms to get by in life.

Which for Dean involves drinking as much as he can, screwing whatever he can and getting high whenever he can.

Dean’s in a rush to get to whatever it is life has in store for him, even though he doesn’t know what that is.

For a writer like Sal, this guy’s the perfect muse for him to live his life through; the raging yin to his voyeuristic yang.

And, like so many other opposites in this life, these two are drawn to each other like magnets.

As they both hit the road in search of new experiences, to taste and touch and feel as much as a man can in this life, their adventures often seem to magically entwine.

But will either of these firm friends find what they’re looking for?

I’m probably one of the few people out there who hasn’t read Jack Kerouac’s classic novel On The Road.

His tale of the beat generation and burgeoning rebellion passed me by when I was young enough to appreciate it, and when I finally did get round to giving it a whirl I got bored after one chapter.

But I guess that’s the price so many pioneers like Kerouac have to pay, that time will date whatever they’ve created.

Though I like to think that’s partly because their work inspired future creators to push their own boundaries even further, leaving these old works of its time.

So I came to this cinematic adaptation with low expectations but also high hopes; and director Walter Salles didn’t disappoint.

Sam Riley plays Sal Paradise, the narrator and ‘Jack Kerouac’ of On The Road, who spends most of his time watching events unfold in front of him rather than being a part of them.

Which is probably the lot of most every writer.

Unsurprisingly given that he plays Dean Moriarty, Garrett Hedlund is a far more compelling presence.

Their stories are of restless young men in search of meaning to their lives, which is why Sal and Dean’s characters bond so strongly in spite of their chalk and cheese personalities.

Even though they go about their own journeys in different ways, their adventurous spirits are twinned by a shared destination and past motivation.

And they even seem to have the same taste in women, as Sal’s love for Dean Moriarty’s long suffering love Marylou.

Marylou is fun, promiscuous and insecure; so kudos to the casting team for seeing these qualities in Kristen Stewart.

Of course, no one’s as much fun as Dean; but then no-one’s as lost as him either.

As is so often the way with characters who’re the life and soul of the party, Dean’s behaviour is essentially self-destructive.

There’s a hole that his father’s absence has left inside of him, so he tries to fill this with as many girls, boys, drink, drugs and life as he humanly can.

But when he stops moving around at 100 mph, Dean always drifts back to the same thing he’s been avoiding all this time.

There are plenty of other famous faces on show here in cameo roles, most notably Steve Buscemi, Kirsten Dunst and the peerless Viggo Mortenson Sal’s surrogate father figure Old Bull Lee.

But it’s the love between Sal and Dean that endures from On The Road, they are the original bromance.

In this age of absent father figures, maybe it’s this spirit of male fraternity that so many lost young men yearn for.

Jonathan Campbell

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October 2012
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