On The (End Of The?) Road, The Movie

by lizard

Francis Ford Coppola is finally bringing the generation-defining book by Jack Kerouac, On The Road, to the big screen. He’s owned the book rights since 1979, and numerous attempts to get the project going have fell through over the years, including one that cast Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt to play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Here’s the trailer tease:

I can’t help thinking back fondly on reading On The Road for the first time (though my introduction to Kerouac was the much better novel, imho, Dharma Bums).

I was of course much younger, which I think is a requirement, because when you break it down, On The Road is a coming of age tale, one that trapped its author when it burst on the scene in 1957, spreading the seductive youthful appeal of being hip, cool, and beat.

Though I’m interested in seeing this adaptation of Kerouac’s paean to Beat counter-culture, I’m a little more weary about the historical context and continuing cultural relevance of the book and the movement it helped shape.

What makes me the most weary is how some of the mechanisms of cultural control that the Beats were, to some extent, rebelling against, like segregation of race and criminalization of drugs, are still being employed today.


The film adaptation—it should be noted—is a film designed to entertain, and by being entertaining, make money. What ends up happening these days for too many of us over-stimulated info-consumers is movies replace the more involved traditional modes of absorbing information (reading).

So the movie will show some young, attractive actors mad to live, drinking wine, smoking tea, driving crazy, and digging jazz. It’s not the job of the film to explain why smoking pot and watching negro be-bop was so rebellious.

And it’s not the job of the film to explain why, 50 years later, marijuana is still illegal, and the war on drugs disproportionately affects minorities, blacks and latinos, leading to a new form of segregation.

No, this film won’t provide any answers to why a black kid with skittles and ice tea walking home in a gated community in Florida was shot and killed by an over zealous neighbor watch vigilante, and why the man STILL has yet to be arrested.

It will, however, introduce to tweens another celebration of the joys of experimenting with alcohol, sex, and drugs, while the progeny of the people who shuttered in fear at the shaking of Elvis’ hips try to reassert their patriarchal boot on the womb of life.


  1. lizard19

    I noticed (looking at the stats) that this post by JC, posted all the way back in September of 2009, has gotten about a dozen hits today, and has some relevance to this post and the continuing discussion we seem to be grappling with.

    (maybe we should continue the discussion that derailed j-girl’s post about citizenship for sale over here, if there’s more that needs to be said)

  2. JC

    It is what makes you weary–the continual head-wall bashing–that many of us have done over the years that is most important here, Liz.

    If Kerouac’s On the Road were to ignite a new round of counter-cultural rebellion, that would be a great thing. Though I have little faith that a nostalgic paean to a tipping point in history will have the power to move a generation to action.

    The culture wars will never go away until we begin to raise new generations that have enough people with the ability to rebel against the status quo and question why the world they are growing up in is the way it is. The 60’s backlash is still with us (“hippy-bashing”) as punishment for having the temerity to challenge authority and speak truth to power. And as those of us 60/70’s hippies who have been bashed all our life continue to rabble-rouse, maybe something will stir…

    The war on drugs is not a war on drugs. It is a war on drug users whom the powers-that-be want to oppress in an attempt to assuage their guilt and shame at perpetuating the capitalist system that created them.

    The war on drug users is an expression of the ultimate denial of those who refuse to look at the role of capitalism run amok in, and its destruction of, our “civil” society. It is an attempt by those who are addicted to power and wealth to silence and render invisible those who are addicted to substances, though both suffer from the same internal state of spiritual void.

  3. Zero Tolerance

    Obviously, I cannot comment on the film, but I can say that the book is mostly irrelevant to today’s reader.

    A much more relevant book for today is “Acid Acres.” It contains most of the themes you mentioned in your critique, except that “drinking wine, smoking tea, driving crazy, and digging jazz” has been replaced with “Sex, Drugs, and Rock-N-Roll.” Of course there is a lot of wine drinking in the book, mostly from gallon jugs, as I recall, and there is one geezer character who still refers to pot as “tea.” Motorcycles replace cars for the crazy driving element.

    The big difference, of course, is that the Beat Generation has been replaced with the Counterculture Generation. More importantly, the Vietnam War creates a leitmotif, with the threat of the draft hanging over everything like a deathly pall.

    Thus, “Acid Acres” jumps ahead of “On the Road” by ten or twelve years and updates many of its themes. Blacks are still held down, although they are beginning to violently resist in the form of Black Panthers; marijuana is still illegal and still sowing paranoia among the young, some of whom have already moved on to LSD and a much higher level of paranoia; and “free love” is still around but has gone into overdrive with the advent of birth control pills.

    I liked the book for its brilliant handling of war veterans and the effect war has on them, for its in-depth treatment of the college experience circa 1969, and for its insights into the relationship between artistic expression and personal freedom. I also liked all the beautiful women in the book, one of whom I fell in love with, but I will not say any more….

    — Max Bucks

  4. Steve W

    My favorite Kerouac was The Subterraneans.

  5. yer on to something, liz: was thinking about brautigan as the next generation of beat recently in very much the same way you seem to feel about the death of the left. you conduct a just war: keep it up.

  6. lizard19

    this is an interesting read.

  7. Oh yes, I remember reading On the Road, as a senior in high school, in 1965. It started many beatific daydreams of careening around the country.

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