I’ve been anxiously awaiting the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road. That statement actually has a double meaning in that not only have I been waiting months for it to arrive at a theater near me but, in truth, I’ve been waiting since I was 16 years old.
Sure, I’ve got friends who can pirate the movie the instant that it comes out. In fact someone did that and sent it to me. I never opened it, not because of some moralistic attitude against piracy (which it turns out I’m actually cultivating) but because despite the kindness of the gesture, it would have cheapened it for me. This wasn’t something that I could watch on a laptop. This wasn’t something that I could watch, sitting on the edge of my bed with the possibility of phones or doorbells ringing. It wasn’t something I would pause to take a leak (though, horribly, I did have to pee for the last 45 minutes). I wouldn’t trade the feeling I had for convenience. I wouldn’t trade being the youngest person in the theater by 20 years. I wouldn’t trade the feeling I had when the words “Campbell, CA” came across the screen, being that I was in Campbell, half a mile from where the scene originally occurred.
Now maybe you think I’m going a bit over-board and maybe I am. But if you’ve read On The Road you might understand. If you had read it at the right time in your life, then you definitely understand. It seems to be one of those books that finds you right when you need it. Truman Capote said of On the Road “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” But Truman Capote was a little prick & in 20 years the only thing people will remember of Breakfast At Tiffany’s is that Audrey Hepburn was as beautiful as a shooting star.
I know that On The Road isn’t the greatest novel ever written, but none of that matters. There is something transcendent about On The Road. The book transcends the words. It transcends structure. It transcends the fact that Kerouac wasn’t quite who he seemed to be or that he lost his mind. It transcends the label Beatnik. It transcends the time that it was written in. Something in that book has the ability to set the soul loose. It’s the reason that I was excited to see a movie adaptation. It’s the reason that everyone else in the theater was in their 60′s (they likely read it when it first came out). It’s not a coincidence. None of us went to see the movie. None of us gave a damn if it was good or not. We all went for that Kerouac Feeling. We went looking for a reason to drop us to our knees for a moment. We may have no need for gods but we will never lose the need for something sacred, because man will always need to be awed. We will always need something to rattle us out of the rut & agenda of life.
So when people ask me, if On The Road was a good movie, I say “It was what is should have been. And I loved it.” But if you don’t love Kerouac; if he didn’t change your life, don’t expect much. It’s not something you can pirate. It’s not something you can watch while playing with your iPad. This movie is a dialogue. It’s a conversation between the filmmakers & the audience. And the whole conversation is about that Kerouac Feeling; about the need to travel without a destination; about the road inside us all and if you don’t put out your thumb, it will simply pass you like another speeding car.