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My googling says that the catastrophe in "The Road" is unexplained.

Given what we can see on-screen, can anyone come up with a better explanation for how the world got that way?

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a book/movie that is neither sci-fi or fantasy. – General Decline Jan 4 '15 at 16:38
@MajorStackings -I disagree. The book & film are explicitly stated to be set in the future, after some sort of apocalyptic event. Although the author claims it to be "not science fiction", that only pushes it further into the "fantasy" category; – Valorum Jan 4 '15 at 17:17
It's the story of a father and sons hopeless journey in a hopeless world. No elves. No laserbeams. Just a coke and a smile. – General Decline Jan 4 '15 at 19:47

11 Answers 11

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I haven't read the book - just saw the movie. I still feel lucky any time I drink a can of coke now from watching that movie :)

I've wondered what it might have been that caused the world to go to hell. From the movie, as Rodger's answer mentioned, it looks like there are fires and earthquakes, not to mention what looks like much colder weather.

The only things I can think of that would cause fires AND earthquakes would be either a meteor hit, or some massive volcanic eruption.

I don't think I've read anything showing that a massive eruption would lead to long-lasting aftershocks (quakes). I'm not sure if a meteor hit would do that either. I'd think if a meteor hit would do that, there wouldn't be any life left on earth from an impact that big. Both of them can lead to cooler weather from ash blocking sunlight. I don't remember - was there any acid rain in the road? If so, I think that's more of an indicator of a volcano than a meteor.

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Really depends on the size of the meteor, I guess. Either could cause earthquakes, fires, and dark skies. – Rodger Cooley Jan 11 '11 at 23:02
@merk - if a large enough supervolcano blew, it would probably have long lasting effects with tremors and aftershocks: it could also still be blowing (the Deccan Traps erupted for hundreds of years). – HorusKol Jan 12 '12 at 6:17

As I remember, it was unexplained but had something to do with massive fire(s). The movie somewhat shows this, but the book talks about grey skies, dead plant life, earthquakes, et cetera. Since it happened suddenly, I'm kind of assuming some kind of natural planetary disaster, like a meteor or comet strike(s).

It's interesting to think about and discuss from a science point-of-view, but totally unnecessary for the human drama... other than the creation of a hostile environment.

Great book, in my opinion.

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Great book, but hella depressing! – espais Jan 11 '11 at 21:08
I think they took the idea of not explaining the source of the apocalypse from Day of the Triffids. – Mark Rogers Mar 17 '11 at 14:12
I loved the book, but the "everything is dead and burned thing irritated me a bit; I mean, the scale of the disaster was necessary for the human drama, but was unrealistic scientifically. Either everything would be gone (including us) or it wouldn't. To have everything except people be gone? More subjectively, I felt like, man being a social animal, we'd have pulled together into enclaves, rather than devolve into cannibalism. Talk about an unsustainable food model. If everyone is starving, where are all these well fed people they're feeding off of coming from? – Satanicpuppy Apr 7 '11 at 14:12
These guys might disagree with you... – espais Aug 4 '11 at 14:14

It was most likely the result of Supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupting. Scientists believe a volcanic eruption that big would cover the globe in a shroud of thick smoke for a very long time, blocking out the sun, killing plant life and then everything with it. It explains why it snows ash regularly, and also the earthquakes and the fires. A meteor or infected water being the cause is preposterous.

Also the cannibals eat people who scavenge the remnant food from pre-apocalypse times, and I don't know if you noticed but there are hardly any people left, so all food sources are running out whether that be a can of tinned beans or a father and his child.

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+1 I fully agree with this answer, because the catastrophe must terminate all life on Earth. A meteor which doesn't destroy the planet would probably spare some of its lifeforms, and infected water is probably not enough, considering what some of Earth's animals are able to endure. – Andres F. Jan 12 '12 at 0:30
I think that this answer is probably the most accurate, given McCarthy's well-known love for the Western U.S. Even if the science doesn't match up completely, I feel like it's more likely that this scenario was the inspiration. – Alaska Feb 7 '15 at 12:52

It lets the reader/viewer put their own "most terrible event" into the story, as well as doesn't bog the story down with the cause of the disaster. The story is about the survivors trying to live.

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When the man and boy are talking to the old man Eli, he mentions that we had the warnings but didn't heed them (or something to that effect). This must point to a massive ecological disaster brought on by global warming. I have to agree with the poster above though, the reason for the cataclysm really is irrelevant in the story. It's not meant as a commentary on the ecological state of the planet but as the backdrop which provides extreme adversity in which the miricle of life and the essence of our humanity continues to hold on, albeit very tenuously.

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It is/was a foreign object impact on earth, no doubt. In the movie, the man first becomes aware of something wrong when a flickering orange glow bleeds into his bedroom windows...all vegetation and subsequently animal life ceases to exist....large ships are shown lobbed onto dry land far from the oceans. All of these things point to meteor impact. Just one meteor the size of the Chicxulub impact 65 Million years ago would be sufficient to create an extinction level event, causing tsunami events world wide, instantly heating the atmosphere enough to kill almost all life forms, especially plant life. Ash layering in the stratosphere would block the Sun's rays, so no plants grow back. Animals, die, trees fall. Ten years later, when the movie takes place, you have small groups of humanity struggling to hang on, scavenging where they can. Saddest part of the movie is the boy, who had never in his life known anything other than the gray landscape he walked through.

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sean keven, I can see why you said what you said, especially about that metor called Chicxulub. I searched it up and found this video. In the video I saw that after ten years the dust was gone, so maybe that is why you said that was when the movie took place. However there was still a lot of dust in the movie, and if it was an meteor that big the little house where they lived wouldn't protect them. Any place that close could have seen a bright orange/red light, plus the dust should have cleared up after around three years, especially five. I am just getting that from the video, but the boy was five years old in the book right? Maybe the actor was seven or ten in the movie but in the book he was supposedly five.

Okay, now for what I think happened:

I think it was the super-volcano in Yellowstone Park. Why?

  1. It would have made the world go under ash for a long time and make it very cold while killing off everything.
  2. It would cause earthquakes and aftershocks for a long time after. Some of those earthquakes could have generated a tsunami, making the boats appear on land like in the movie.
  3. That volcano would have been powerful enough to set a lot of things on fire, but not have enough power to kill everything on the earth with its eruption. However what could have killed everything was the fires it set, which could have travelled far from the affected areas. That means the fire could have reached very far away but not the force or lava of the volcano. In the movie you saw most houses burnt up and destroyed, but where the father lived you could only notice a light fire.

Now, why couldn't it have been a meteor or nuclear fallout? It could not have been a meteor because a meteor with the power to destroy that much in an area would be able to destroy most of the world, including the house where the father lived. It may have been a smallish meteor and only effected that side of the world, meaning Europe and Asia could have not gotten the full blow but still functioning well while not bothering in helping anyone in America since it is most likely everyone died.

It could not have been any nuclear bombs becuase they would not have caused aftershocks or earthquakes 5+ years after, and almost nothing seemed irridated and unsafe to consume. Also it would have killed anything in the area it damaged, not just set stuff on fire for a long time.

That is just what I think and I am not an expert, as I am just a 13 year old but I still am not a idiot. Maybe just someone that doesn't know a lot about those things. However I really think it was a super-volcano.

Also, a meteor would not have hit without anyone knowing because right now we know when one will hit, or at least have an idea and most likely would be able to stop it. I heard of those rockets they can use to send a meteor away from Earth. If it was huge with a large amount of power it would have been unstoppable but if that happened everything would have been incinerated. Maybe it was a nuclear fallout though I doubt it. The only reason I have it in mind was becuase of the bomb shelter they found, but that bomb shelter seemed to have been good enough for a volcanic eruption compared to the other buildings.

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I don't believe that there is a plausible disaster that could cause what is described in the book. However, your answer is persuasive, and certainly it comes closest the description. I'm voting this up. – John O Sep 29 '12 at 1:15

Also mentioned in the book was that the birds had been dead and forgotten for quite some time and that the sea was "no longer sea smelling". I found the latter to be the most harrowing. If you watch the part where the man washes his son's hair in the water, you will see that the water is greenish yellow.

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In the book The Road references are made of a flash and booms and some sort of blossoming orange glow that makes me think of a mushroom cloud from a BIG bomb. But the ash everywhere makes me highly consider the Yellowstone volcano theory. That sort of thing would have clouded the atmosphere for years, which makes sense too.

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Ash also rains down after a nuclear bomb detonates (nuclear fallout). – Kevin Apr 4 '12 at 13:10

A meteorite. In the movie there is a shot of boats and ships laying next to a destroyed highway. I don't think nukes could have caused that .

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I agree with the theory that it was a giant volcano. It would explain the earthquakes and the constant lack of sun light due to a global ash cloud, which explains the drop in temperature and the ash falling from the sky. The plants have probably died due to the lack of sunlight, the cold and maybe the falling ash. Since plants form the basis of an ecosystem then all of the animals have eventually died. I think it's believable that humans could survive for some period of time by scavenging from the remains of society (canned food, other humans, frozen bugs) but eventually all food sources would be consumed and all people would die. The old man (Ely) mentions that there were warnings of this disaster. I think that science can predict if a volcano is likely to erupt and also predict how large the eruption will be. The earthquakes caused by the volcano would also cause large tsunamis which would explain why there are boats and ships laying next to a destroyed highway.

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protected by dlanod Sep 10 '12 at 1:24

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