Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s much-anticipated new film, On the Road, premieres today in theaters across the country. Based on the 1946 novel by Jack Kerouac, the film is the second collaboration between the 27-year-old actor and the 29-year-old actress after 2010’s Twilight. The couple started dating in 2008 and were engaged a year later. Since then, they’ve gone public with their romance twice, welcoming a daughter, Eve, in April 2014 and tying the knot for a third time in October of that year.
The road film genre embodies the transformative power of travel and the transformative power of love. Whether escaping to another country for a much-needed break or embarking on a grand adventure together, the road trip encapsulates the boundless romantic possibilities of newfound freedom.]]>
On the Road
Set in the wake of World War II, On the Road tells the story of Ralphie (Pattinson), a 20-year-old war veteran searching for freedom who decides to leave behind the safety of military life for the glamour and excitement of the road. Along with his trusted friend and road buddy, Babe (Scorsese), Ralphie embarks on a journey that will take him across the United States in search of adventure and self-discovery. Along the way, he will encounter a colorful cast of characters – both friendly and not so friendly – who help to shape his evolving identity. Written and directed by Eric Fellner, who collaborated with Anthony McCarten on the original 1994 Broadway production of The Last of the Mohicans, the film is an adaption of Kerouac’s classic novel of the same name. In the film, McCarten and Fellner pay homage to the original work, while adding some essential twists that make it their own.
A Classic Road Trip
McCarten and Fellner took the opportunity to re-create some of the classic elements that made Kerouac’s novel so endearing. Like Kerouac’s original work, they focused on the transformative power of travel and how it can effect a person. Inspired by Kerouac’s famous description of the road as “that great American adventure,” they wanted to capture the magic of that journey for their characters. They also drew from their experience of making the Broadway production and bringing it to the big screen. “It’s always a pleasure to work with a great novel, and I think that On the Road is perhaps the greatest of all time,” said McCarten, of the adaptation. “I think that having had the great fortune to have gone to the public library and read all of Kerouac’s novels, it was an absolute joy to be able to bring them to life.”
McCarten and Fellner focused on recreating the novel’s famous opening section in which Ralphie embarks on a road trip with Babe across the country. The two set out from New York City in a 1940s jalopy with guitar and violin, playing old-timey songs and driving all night to get to their destinations. Their trip is filled with suspense and unexpected twists as they encounter a series of adventures that challenge their notions about love, loyalty, and freedom. It’s a thrill ride that will keep you guessing till the very end.
A Grand Tour
While the opening section of On the Road is set in the 1940s, the rest of the film chronicles events that take place in the 1950s. Like many of Kerouac’s novels, the story jumps back and forth in time, incorporating bits and pieces of the present day. This was a stylistic choice made by McCarten and Fellner, who wanted to create a cinematic experience that was as immediate and vivid as possible. They also wanted to reflect the novel’s status as a product of the post-war era. As a result, scenes set in the 1950s are punctuated with references to the period’s iconic fashion and cultural landmarks. This also ties into the film’s other main theme: identity. During this time, Americans were beginning to question what it meant to be American and what it meant to adhere to traditional gender roles and expectations.
In a pivotal scene, Ralphie and Babe visit San Francisco and stroll through the Hippie section of the city. They pass some of Kerouac’s iconic characters, who recognize Ralphie’s war helmet and invite him to “join the club.” This club – the Merry Pranksters – is where Kerouac’s “angelheaded hipsters” are hanging out. Their costumes and behavior are a sharp contrast to the conventional attire of the time. When Ralphie hesitates to join, his friend and cohort urge him to “just go with it, man.” They want to help him fit into their community and show him the ropes. This passage is reminiscent of how the Beats helped to introduce young Americans to the pleasures of life beyond the white picket fences and nuclear family unit that typified the ‘50s. The Beats were iconsoclasts whose work challenged the conformity of the time and whose lifestyle and ideas were a breath of fresh air for many in the subsequent generation of readers.
Despite the transformative power of travel and the cultural references that pepper the film, On the Road also exposes the dark underbelly of American society at the time. The film opens with a news report on the serial killer, known as the Gacy Gang, whose gruesome murders took place in the Chicago area in the early 1970s. The brutal slayings of 33 men and boys shocked the country and are recounted in graphic detail as the camera pans over mug shots of the serial killers.
When the police hunt for the Gacy Gang leads them to Babe’s apartment, they uncover a secret room filled with thousands of pornographic photos and other paraphernalia that reveal the extent of his obsession with underage males. The discovery jars the group of friends – who consist primarily of middle-aged and elderly men – and they decide that enough is enough and that they need to do something to help Babe come to terms with his dark tendencies. As the police investigation continues, we learn that the real target of the Gacy Gang was not men but men’s libido, a fact that is both disturbing and fitting, given the time and place of the crimes’ occurrence.
Romantic Road Trip
On the Road is not only an adaption of one of Kerouac’s most famous works but also a product of its time and place. Since the 1920s, America has been searching for the “American Dream” and what it means to be an “individual.” During this period, men and women began to question social conventions that had been in place since before the turn of the century, regarding gender roles and the expectations that come with them. This was especially prominent during the 1950s when the “sexual revolution” began to take shape and people began to explore their bodies and desires with newfound freedom.
Kerouac’s “bitchin’ road trip” had everything a romance-seeking ‘50s housewife could want: an exciting adventure, a ruggedly handsome and masculine lover, and a journey that will take her away from the safety and familiarity of home. While On the Road is undoubtedly one of McCarten and Fellner’s finest films, it is also a product of its historical moment, which was one of transition and self-reflection. This was also a time when gender roles were being questioned and there was a great deal of interest in travel and exploration, both physical and emotional. As a result, this is a fascinating and important film to study in the context of American history and literature, as well as the evolution of the romance genre in general.