The Road

Photo from

The Road (2009)

Rated R

Notable Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall 


This review contains major spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Road before, I highly suggest watching it first, then coming back to this review.


The Road (2009) is a post-apocalyptic drama involving a father and his young son struggling to survive after a cataclysmic event. The viewer isn’t given much information as to what caused the disaster aside from Papa’s recollection of a bright light followed a series of low concussions. The film takes place partly in Pennsylvania, as evidenced only by a license plate on an abandoned vehicle. Papa thinks it’s October but isn’t sure, as he hasn’t kept a calendar in years. The Road is honestly one of the most depressing survival films out there, detailing the grim reality of long-term survival in a world stripped of resources and populated by cannibalistic bandits. No animals or crops appear to have survived the event, and starvation has brought society to its knees. The story follows Papa and Boy as they try to reach the Atlantic coast of the U.S., in hopes that the road will lead them to safety.

While the world depicted in The Road may be exaggerated, if not downright unrealistic, the film still offers the viewer a sobering perspective into what is required to survive after a cataclysmic event. As such, there are many lessons to be learned from The Road and films like it, some of which I have compiled below.

Lessons Learned: 

Act Early: In one of the few scenes depicting the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Papa begins filling the tub and sinks with water. Papa’s quick thinking in the face of crisis likely helped to sustain his family through the initial days or weeks following the event. The ability to correctly assess when a disaster has occurred, and then take immediate action, is vital to your survival. 

Preparing with Kids: Boy, Papa’s pre-teen son, illustrates the inherent challenges of preparing with children. In a survival situation, parents are constantly fixated on the child’s well-being, and this adds a level of complexity to a survival situation. Children not only represent additional mouths to feed but can also make it difficult to travel quickly and quietly. When children become frightened, they often lack the necessary sound discipline to remain hidden and can become paralyzed by fear in the face of danger. 

Crops: During the film, Papa notes that the crops are “long gone” resulting in a major food shortage for the few who survived. The reality is, hungry people will likely be quick to consume crops for food, but will not have the knowledge or ambition to replant those crops for long-term sustainment. In addition to having long-term packaged survival food on hand, preppers must ensure they have seeds and tools necessary for planting food for the long haul.

Wildfires: In a world with few survivors, wildfires burn out of control. Several times throughout the film Papa and Boy are forced to make a hasty departure from their location to stay ahead of the deadly blazes. Ensure your retreat location has an adequate fire break between trees and your structures, and be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. 

Survival Psychology: One of the darker elements that The Road presents is the crippling depression that comes along with prolonged hardship. Papa contemplates suicide several times due to starvation and hints throughout the film that most people have already turned to that option. The will to survive depends largely upon having hope, and hope is provided by having the tools and knowledge necessary to sustain yourself. 

Medical/First Aid: In a flashback to Boy’s birth after the disaster, Papa and Boy’s mother are forced to deliver the child at home with no medication or doctors. Later in the film, Papa suffers an arrow wound to the leg and struggles to keep it from becoming infected. Preppers must ensure they have the necessary medical supplies and knowledge to treat common injuries and illnesses. What may appear to be a minor injury can prove fatal if left untreated. 

Being Properly Armed: Throughout his struggle, Papa has only a small revolver in his possession. To add to the problem, he only has two live rounds for the gun. While revolvers can be highly reliable in adverse conditions, one of their potential drawbacks is highlighted in the film. When Papa is forced to draw down on a threatening bandit, the man can see that there are only two rounds in the gun. Magazine-fed weapons hold additional ammo and prevent an attacker from visually seeing how many rounds are in the gun. Your bugout bag should contain at least a couple hundred rounds of common caliber ammunition. 

Avoid Roads: The entire film appears to take place on one major highway leading toward the coast. Roads present a serious danger as they are easier for bandits to travel and often subject you to being spotted from a great distance. One night, Papa and boy sleep in a car on the edge of the road and end up being discovered by a traveling group of cannibals. If you must follow a road to navigate to safety, stay a couple of hundred yards off to the side and walk parallel to it. 

Cherish the Little Things: During their travels, Papa and Boy discover a full can of Coke, and they are elated at the chance to enjoy a rare treat. This scene reminds the viewer that the little things can make all the difference in a bad situation, and it’s a good idea to stock up on some niceties just in case. 

Signs of Life: While traveling the road, Papa and Boy stumble across a house and decide to enter and search for supplies. While searching for a tool to aid in breaking in, the camera pans across the exterior of the house where some recently-used fire pits are visible. This should have been a major red flag to Papa, but he fails to notice them. Upon entering the home, the pair discovers a grisly scene of prisoners chained up in the basement, apparently being used as food by the home’s inhabitants. Sure enough, as Papa and Boy prepare to leave, the cannibals return. Papa and Boy narrowly escape their attackers, and the whole situation could have been avoided had they taken the time to assess their surroundings. 

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: Papa and Boy stumble upon a well-made underground survival bunker, stocked with tons of canned food and drinks. After enjoying a much-needed meal and drink, Papa hears a commotion going on around the escape hatch above ground. Papa smartly determines that the pair must leave, lest they are discovered. This scene illustrates that we should never become too comfortable in a place we deem safe, and be prepared to evacuate immediately should the location become compromised. 

Complacency Kills: Toward the end of the film, Papa and Boy stop to admire a beetle and Papa pays the price for failing to stay alert. A hostile in an adjacent building launches an attack using bow and arrow, and Papa ends up being shot through the leg. The wound ultimately proves fatal for Papa, as he dies shortly thereafter from an apparent infection. The real takeaway here is not just the importance of being able to treat an injury, but also that becoming complacent can often lead to tragic outcomes. 

The Grass Ain’t Always Greener: In a seemingly final psychological blow, Papa and Boy arrive at the coast only to discover it in the same desolate condition as the rest of the wasteland. Although you may have the perfect survival location in mind, you must be prepared for the possibility that the location will not be as hospitable as expected.


While The Road can be a depressingly difficult film to watch, I feel the lessons that can be learned from its story are well worth our time as prepared individuals. It’s not often that Hollywood offers a true perspective into the psychological challenges of surviving a disaster, and The Road provides a rare opportunity for viewers to reflect on the mental aspect of survival.

If you’ve seen The Road and have your own thoughts on the lessons that can be learned by watching it, feel free to leave them in the comments. The Regular Prepper Blog is a community space, and we always value and encourage your feedback.

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