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Themes of Road Movie Genre

Life on road is an alternate of everyday life. Once sitting behind the steering wheel, the world expands in front of your eyes in a totally different perspective—flat road, flying dust, fleeting wood, and fizzling sound. Passengers as well as drivers are trapped in a restricting and cage-like space, which perfectly suits the elements of drama— limited time and limited space, a few characters, and an abuilding conflict.

The on-the-road movies blossomed in the years after World War II, which reflects a boom in automobile production and the growth of youth culture. At the same time, the systematic transportation network across the continent makes it possible for ordinary people to have a long journey. As a result, the car culture, in fact automobile culture, prevails on the land of America.

Characters in road movies have to travel from place to place. For the twofold reason of film and auto industry, they travel on American land most of the time. However, the concrete reasons for each one’s travel are different, as a result the mood and behavior are diverse, which reflect all kinds of themes of road movie genre.

  1. Loneliness

Driving on road means the biggest villain you face is the endless road between YOU and the DESTINATION. You have to wait, and this process is neither avoidable nor compressible. Waiting is also a process to discover absurdness of life, shown in Waiting for Godot. During this process the connections between you and the civilized society are cut down to the minimum, especially when cell phone hasn’t been invented in lots of classical road movies. Being faced with the same person all week long in a cramped space is a strange experience for ordinary people. Under such situation, he or she is the only listener and undertaker of your grief and joy, and has to take the role of your most intimate one during that time.

In Paris, Texas, the father and son look lonely because they are in chase of a seemingly reachless goal. Compared with that goal, they are small and weak. The two make a fragmentary family for the void of ‘mom’, a gentle and soft character in the usual sense. So one could save them from the incessant disappointment, or to say, the mood of loneliness.

  1. Crime

Driving across the no man’s land is a battle against the wild. You have to face the possibilities of overheating, or having a flat tire. So one must have more than a strong heart to undertake all the emergencies and miseries. At the same time, ties between man and civilization get weaker as driving further and longer. Crimes in that extreme situation seem more probable and acceptable.

Besides, in some road movies the protagonist is incompatible with conventional society. They just drive into the wilderness and betray the regular life.

Bonnie & Clyde tells a story of rivalry: the couple robbers from Dallas as they travels the central United States with their gang during the Great Depression. They enjoy the life with finger on the trigger, and have the power of life and death in their hand. In Thelma & Louise, the bullets they shoot are antis of conventional patriarchal society where they escaped. These characters live like worms in common days, but when on the road the ‘individual’ overtop the earthliness and law, which makes the crime a great pomp.

  1. Fury

Most characters on the road are marginal men to some extent. They share those features in common: Never feeling satisfied from their own life, and being restless in seeking hope. In road movies these guys choose to abandon safe and sound life, and cast themselves into variable fates.

“He contends that road movies express the fury and suffering of the marginalized and give their restless protagonists the false hope of a one-way ticket to nowhere.”(Atkinson, Michael)

No Man’s Land directed by Ning Hao is a movie of such fury. The lawyer, who used to be a big figure under the spotlight, has to give up his principles as well as social status with fury as the journey extends until ends up with an earthshaking explosion. Ironically, these desperate actions are made out of ‘hope’, which relies on the castle of cards. The irreconcilable contraction between ideal and reality issues in individual tragedy.

In the movies above, once protagonists decide to take a journey on the road, very few of them will drive back. Can they turn back the car? Are they willing to turn back? Maybe there are a thousand answers in a thousand people’s eyes. The only thing we’re sure about is that everything is forging ahead. As time passes by, the characters make their way without cease. Not a single end is pre-declared, which is just like our lives.