“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 who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
On the Road is a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic, and genius beat-generation tale of the same name. The film was directed by Walter Salles, and stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, and Garrett Hedlund as the illustrious Dean Moriarty. The difficulty of this films lies in the challenge to portray a novel that has many times been deemed unrepresentable. Whether or not they succeeded can be measured by the portrayal of the main characters, and the authenticity of Salles representation of the very distinct beat generation.
On the Road, the book, can be described as a dialogue between Kerouac and his youth. The characters of the book represent people who were actually a part of a trip Kerouac took across the country. The book reflects the journey that Kerouac took with Neal Cassady (who Dean Moriarty is based upon), a major face of the beat generation and the book is written stream of consciousness with very few breaks. Hence its reputation as being unrepresentable.
The film includes some of the important aspects of the original story. The costuming was right and the scenery was right. But the story was anachronistic and the casting was questionable. Sam Riley played a convincing Sal Paradise. Compared to Dean, Sal is a very understated
character. The subtleties of Sal Paradise are mostly captured by Riley’s performance. Though there may have been a certain calm lacking in him, we can perhaps chalk that up to the fact that the movie seemed mostly to take place in the present while the book was more of a reflection by an older Sal. Kristen Stewart played the love interest of Dean, and sometimes Sal, and as portrayals go it was not the strongest. That can’t be completely blamed on Stewart however; it seemed that she played the character as written, but the character was not written properly. The performances of the smaller cast members, however, ought not be overlooked. Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Elizabether Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen performed splendidly. Their individual performance, while short-lived, illuminated the story and brought wonderful clarity to adaptation.
Hedlund’s portrayal of Dean Moriarty is still one that is stewing with me. It takes time and patience to digest Dean Moriarty and it will take even more time to understand how one portrays such a character. Dean is truly an enigma. It seems so even to Kerouac. Another reason this book may be deemed unrepresentable is because one of the key players, Dean, is written from Sal’s point of view. So any actor seeking to portray Dean has to consider what of Dean is unseen to Sal and represent that as well. All complexities aside, Hedlund did a bang up job on Dean Moriarty. It would have been very easy to overstate the characters, and turn him into a caricature. but Hedlund’s performance was finely tuned and he burned down to the bottom of the wick of Dean Moriarty.
The power of On the Road as it was written most likely cannot be recaptured on a screen. It happens so vividly in the heart upon being read that the best medium for the retelling of Kerouac’s tale seems to be the original scroll, not the movie screen. That being said, Salles and his beloved cast made a hell of a go. When you watch this film you might feel that magic for a moment. You might feel yourself atop that pickup truck with the wind blowing through you. You might live for a moment in the brass of the jazz saxophones. You might even feel the fever of Dean, and the quite passion of Sal, and the beat generation pressing into your lungs like a sticky Mexico night.