Jack Kerouac famously wrote “On The Road” during a three-week typing session on a single scroll of paper, and while it may be one of the quickest novels in history, the journey to bring an adaptation to the big screen has proved to be its polar opposite.
The book details the travels and adventures of Sal Paradise–a character modeled after Kerouac himself–and Dean Moriarty, two friends who crave a life lived in the moment and experiencing everything there is for a young man in post-war America. The story is largely autobiographical and includes characters based on many people Kerouac really knew, such as writer William Burroughs, who is played by Viggo Mortensen in the film. It has been hailed as “the Beatnik’s Bible”, chronicling as it did the time in American history when young people were desperately trying to find their way in a sea of conformity.
Because of the vaguely erratic nature of Kerouac’s writing style–which didn’t follow a traditional narrative and was praised by some and deemed amateurish by others–a film adaptation has been difficult to secure, but not from lack of trying; big names have been attached to the script from as early as 1979, when Francis Ford Coppola acquired the rights. His son, Roman, is a co-producer on the film, which premiered at Cannes this week and has earned mixed reviews.
Time Out Magazine says the film feels “long and tedious, as if we’ve dropped in on someone else’s party without knowing or caring who these folks are”, while The Telegraph called it “a tedious loop of beatnik debauchery.” But the movie is continually praised for its sun-drenched colors and wide shots of the gorgeous vistas that the American landscape offers; perhaps it will become known more for the visual storytelling than for staying true to the book.