Unravelling The Journey Movie: A Genre In 5 Films

May 12, 2011 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

theway300The Way, directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, is the story of Tom (Sheen) trying to reconnect with his son Daniel (Estevez) who dies whilst trying to walk Camino de Santiago across the Pyrenees in north-east Spain. Tom decides to complete his son’s failed journey in order to honour his memory and is joined on the way by three companions.

It’s a classic journey/road movie and the sort of film that has given the sub-genre an association with the profound. The archetypal road movie is a journey of learning, where the characters progress as people whilst also in pursuit of their ultimate goal. OTB have rummaged around and found some examples of films that span the road movie genre, and put them into a nice list complete with clips for your viewing pleasure.


1. Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider is the story of two bikers (Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda) travelling through America on a quest to achieve freedom. It perfectly captured the mood of the ‘60s, and used the journey of the two characters to explore issues that were important to the era like drug use, the hippie movement and tensions in US society. Chastised by some for having no real storyline, the film is a perfect example of a road movie for just that reason: it is the journey itself that is important, not linear plot progression with a definitive beginning, middle and end like so many films.

2. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Based – fairly loosely - on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Apocalypse Now is a road movie with a twist, and not just because most of it is set on a boat. Captain Benjamin Willard’s journey to find and eliminate Colonel Kurtz gets more depraved and disturbing the further he travels up the river into the heart of darkness looking for Kurtz’s base somewhere in Cambodia. Despite that, the journey still addresses certain issues such as American interventionalism, civilisation and right and wrong; albeit in a dystopian setting. Apocalypse Now is an example of a road movie with no conclusion; the film ends but what ultimately happens to the characters left open – they continue on their respective journeys after the film ends.

3. Lord Of The Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)

Lord Of The Rings is a story about a journey of self-sacrifice, the ability to set aside one’s own goals in order to make the world (or Middle Earth) a better place. All sorts of stuff happens to Frodo and Sam along the way: mines, fighting, woods, fighting, mountain tops, fighting, giant spiders, fighting and in the end all works out for the best despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Almost everybody learns something, too, which is nice. Other than Sauron and Gollum, of course, who die. Still, percentage wise, most people end up happy.

4. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

When you make a film based on The Odyssey, there’s almost no way it can end up being anything other than a journey movie. This particular journey is one involving three criminals who break out of jail in an attempt to retrieve over $1 million that one of them claims to have buried before he was caught. Joel Coen, who directed the film, described it as “a story about someone going home” which marks it out as a different kind of journey: a journey home. However, it shouldn’t be confused with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home which contains many more whales.

5. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)

Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s manic novel is an unusual type of road movie, in as much as it seems to have no agenda whatsoever - which, in fairness, is probably what you’d expect from two men on a drugs binge in Las Vegas. The main theme is probably that of escaping ‘The American Way’ as hinted in the novel’s preface with the quote from Samuel Johnson: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” A metaphorical journey to escape the oppressive nature of modern society? Sounds good, anyway.

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