On The Road

White lines.

White lines.

Kerouac’s tale of his friendship with Neil Cassady (nee Dean Moriarty) plays like a journey of the apostles, as a lost tribe of disaffected youths pursue this charismatic narcissist back and forth across America. Rarely does a film let you know so early thats it’s going to subject you to trial by boredom as we wander with no trajectory from scene to scene, with much forced laughter and amazement. We start with less a movie than a tribute to a historic novel, touching dutifully on each milestone and artefact but releasing no hint of their fragrance.

However On The Road confounds expectations and does improve in its second half as things deteriorate for the characters, their aimlessness turning from an emptiness to something more like a struggle, bumming and thieving their way from city to city, their mutual disenchantment growing, with Cassady fading to a shivering ghost, doomed to die young, but taking his time about it.

Kerouac was a highly talented prose-poet and a stylist who was there to let fly about the right stuff in the right place at the right time (or actually a little ahead of his time, as On The Road took six years to find a publisher). Finding he was on a good thing, he stuck to it. Prior to On The Road, Kerouac penned his first major work – a stab at the Great American Novel about three generations of a rural Massachusetts family who move to New York. It is called The Town and The City. It set out to expunge Kerouac’s adolescent anguish, is utterly conventional, and I’m not sure it isn’t his best work. Either way it’s probably time better spent that watching this.

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