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VENICE (Reuters) - Author Cormac McCarthy's haunting vision of a desolate, post-apocalyptic world in "The Road" has made it to the big screen in an equally bleak film, starring Viggo Mortensen as a father struggling to keep his son alive.
The movie, directed by Australia's John Hillcoat, seeks to recreate the barren, rain-drenched landscapes, anarchic violence, nagging hunger and overriding despair of the award-winning book.
Charlize Theron plays the boy's mother in flashback sequences and Robert Duvall is an aging wanderer roaming the abandoned roads of America.
Hillcoat believes the father-son relationship at the center of the story, and the fact that the boy eventually learns to trust others, means the book and film are in fact more optimistic than they may appear.
"He (McCarthy) explained to me that for him 'Blood Meridian' was very much about the worst in human nature and this book (The Road) for him is very much about the absolute best," Hillcoat told reporters at the Venice film festival, where his movie is in the main competition.
"I think he makes a very real argument for the father as a man who has got all these conflicts that we can all relate to, but at the end of the day it is the boy who takes that leap of faith.
"It's why I think it's ... for McCarthy the most hopeful novel he's ever done."
Mortensen, who is bearded, disheveled and caked in dirt throughout the action, believes the power of The Road lies in the love between a father and son.
"What drew me at first was the connection I felt being a father," he said.
"But you don't really have to be a parent. I mean everybody is a child of somebody and in the end it's a love story between two people.
"I think this is why McCarthy's book The Road has had more universal appeal than any other of his books ... because it's about something that everybody can understand everywhere.
"That concern -- what will happen to my child if I'm not around to help him or her? It's taken to an extreme where I know, and the audience knows, that if I'm gone he has no shelter, no food, no friends, no safety."
He praised Australian child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who described some of the physical challenges of playing the boy.
"There was (a) time when we had to wash some brains out of my hair, and guts, and the water was actually freezing. I don't know if you can imagine minus-a-lot water on your head."
Asked how he recreated the nightmarish scenery of Earth after an unspecified catastrophe, Hillcoat explained how he and his cast toured some of the "post-apocalyptic sites of America.
"(They) were dragged through the winter of Pittsburgh, we went to Mount St. Helens, we went to New Orleans, the post-Katrina cleanup that hadn't taken place yet, we went to the strip mines in Pennsylvania, abandoned highways, poverty, the homeless."
Hillcoat and his producers will be hoping for some McCarthy magic when it comes to the upcoming awards season. The Coen brothers' adaptation of his ninth novel "No Country for Old Men" won Academy Awards for best film and best director.
Editing by Steve Addison