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Bleak Is Chic: How Low Will Hollywood Go?

These photos were references for "The Road," a movie with post-apocalyptic scenery inspired by Earth circa 2008. It's a cute irony if you think about it for two seconds; any longer and it becomes a drag.

Apocalypse now? Yep.

"Talk about reality," marvels director John Hillcoat, his eyes darting through the greatest hits of natural and man-made devastation. "People are living the apocalypse. The homeless, in every city in the world now. The underclass. And that, to me, is in Cormac's book."

This was in August, before he had to lay down his preterm baby at the altar of the Test Audience, America's oracle for divining a movie's marketability. Test audiences make Hillcoat jittery. Talking with him, you can imagine a worst-case scenario:

How would you describe the movie to your friends?

"Uh. Bleak."

Would you recommend it to them?

"Only if they want to watch, for two hours, a father and son encounter every horror on the road to hell."

Allow us to be presumptuous: The book is repetitively bleak. Ash, cold, starvation, repeat. The story "is bleak, but it's actually about what makes us human in the most bleak situation," says Hillcoat. "So it actually amplifies humanity because it's a love story between a father and son. . . . It's set in this extreme world, but all that does is amplify that basic human drama."

Maybe that's why we're weirdly attracted to bleakness. It gives us a strong hit of humanity. It strips away the banal. It raises our pedestrian struggles to grandiose heights. At least that's what directors might have us believe.

"This was definitely going to be a genre piece," "Cloverfield" producer Bryan Burk told critic Emanuel Levy in an interview, "but we really wanted it to be about the people going through this experience, to make it an emotional movie."

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