The film “On the Road” is a young man’s journey to self-discovery – as wild, intense and questioning as only a Jack Kerouac based-project can be.
Directed by Walter Salle and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the semi-autobiographical film based on Kerouac’s book of the same name begins in 1947. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), a French-Canadian living in NYC, is recovering from a “serious illness” and his father’s death. His friend Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) introduces Sal to the uninhibited Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who answers the door completely naked – his teenaged wife Marylou (Kristin Stewart) is still warming up the bed inside. Dean burns with an intensity that Sal admires – Dean is constantly on the go, not only traveling “on the road” but also on the go with women, drinking and weed. Travelling with Dean across America inspires and fuels Sal’s desire to be a writer who might break new boundaries.
As Dean gets caught up in his various responsibilities (women and eventually, children), Sal begins to travel alone, eventually returning back to Dean to travel with him again. Through it all Sal begins to learn that in spite of all the freedom he has, living for yourself isn’t always the best way, especially when loneliness sets in.
Hedlund portrays a wild and frenetic Dean with a few troubled moments of reflection, while Riley as Sal is a master at using only his eyes to express deep emotions and a conflicted heart. Kirstin Dunst as Camille (one of Dean’s women) and Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee turn in poignant and troubled performances, while Stewart and Sturridge make their characters stand out too. A star-filled roster of cameos – Amy Adams, Terence Howard, Steve Buscemi and Elisabeth Moss – also complement the story.
One of the most showcased stars of the film is America herself, put forth with splendor by cinematographer Eric Gautier. There is also the attention paid to exquisite detail as to the cars, houses and stores – down to the way people dressed and spoke in the late 40s and early 50s. It is a time caught after a hard-won peace, when America began to experiment with literature, music (jazz) and new ways of living; when the “beat generation” first took hold.
Although the book was published in 1957, it took a long time to come to the big screen – Kerouac had originally approached Marlon Brando to play Dean, thinking of himself to play Sal. Now Kerouac fans finally have something more cinematic to remember him by, while hearing his original thoughts:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn . . .”