When picturing the ideal film to market to Christian filmgoers, The Passion of the Christ is a no-brainer. Even a silly family comedy with clear biblical overtones like Evan Almighty makes sense. But the grim, R-rated postapocalyptic drama The Road? Yes, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel about a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) traveling through a bleak wasteland is getting the full pitch to Christian audiences. A. Larry Ross, who oversaw faith-based campaigns for The Passion of the Christ and Left Behind, is now heading up a similar outreach for The Road. Plans include 15 advance screenings for church leaders nationwide, a website featuring free sermon and discussion guides, and a special trailer with extra scenes underscoring the film’s moral message (like one in which father and son talk about ”carrying the fire” of human kindness).
The Road also features roving cannibals and an ashen sky, but director John Hillcoat says he talked up the story’s spiritual subtext even before he started shooting. ”I mean, it’s the apocalypse,” he says. ”How many times has that been brought up in Christian texts?” While The Road is filled with stark themes of good and evil, Hillcoat is careful not to overstate its message: ”This isn’t a Christian film. It’s open to interpretation.”
Ross acknowledges that the film’s appeal to Christian audiences may seem counterintuitive. ”I felt there was an opportunity for people of faith to participate in a robust spiritual discussion,” he says. ”There are pastors who might not be able to recommend [the film], but would preach about it. I’ve got a pastor right here in Dallas who’s doing a sermon series on the end of the world, and I’m hoping that he’ll incorporate some of the metaphors from this film into his sermons.”
Regardless of the campaign’s effect on the box office, one man has no doubt about The Road‘s spiritual resonance. After McCarthy watched an early cut, Hillcoat says the author had only one request: ”He said, ‘It would be great to hear the word God one or two more times.”’