Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD is considered to be the defining novel of what is known as the “beat” generation. These were post-WWII young people who identified themselves through poetry, jazz, drugs and sexual exploration. These identities took time to establish and that meant there was never really any time for work or responsibility. In many regards, they remind of today’s hipsters. As I don’t care for them, you can imagine how I feel about their forefathers.
I’ve not read the Kerouac novel and I’m certain from seeing the film that it is incredibly detailed and likely highly insightful but that doesn’t mean it translates well. On screen, ON THE ROAD, amounts to a fairly aimless road trip with nothing but unlikable characters to spend the time with. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is disenchanted with life when we meet him in 1947 in New York City. He wants to be a writer but he cannot commit to a single word, at least in type. Enter Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Dean is the epitome of cool and everyone follows him around, like the lost little puppies they are. The trouble is that Dean is more lost than any of them.
Dean and Sal fight against growing up and taking responsibility for their lives and choices. Along their trip, they meet many folks who reinforce this lesson with varying degrees of subtlety. Putting life on hold to figure out who you are and to enjoy what life offers certainly has its merits but to watch this experience on film, no matter how well Brazilian director, Walter Salles, paints the picture, is just self-indulgent really.