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Walter Salles’ On the Road brings to life an entire generation of beats who’d do just about anything to feel alive

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”

–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The soundtrack to Brazilian director Walter Salles’ (Motorcycle DiariesOn the Road is reason enough to want to go see the famous beat gen. book’s movie rendition (and who knows, maybe even re-read the seemingly overnight hit ’57 novel) about Jack Kerouac, aka Sal (played by Sam Riley), and his various adventures (and misadventures!) across the US lands: from his mother’s apartment in Ozone, NY, to the hilly streets of San Francisco (they also make it to Mexico)—all in the thrill of his companionship with the oh so rebellious and outlandish Dean (Garrett Hedlund).

Having first read the book during my undergrad while learning about the beat poets, I appreciated their hunger for adventure and desire to write, their desire to share this inexplicable interconnectivity through, well, what else? Booze, sex, and jazz. And marijuana. AND maybe some other mischievous stuff that I won’t mention. But let’s just say there’s lots of dancin’, and lots of travelin’.


Kristen Stewart’s role as Dean’s young wife (like, 16 years-old young) Maylou was really groundbreaking for her, and in case you were using her Twilight saga status as a reason to not see this movie, please remove any bias and just enjoy. Her performance is never more outstanding than when she breaks it down to a super speedy jazz number by Gustavo Santaolalla (shown above), who composed nearly 3/4 of the soundtrack.

On the Road pieces together what was missing from the book in the first place, bringing to life the musicality notion of Kerouac’s story and the beats characters altogether, but also makes you question the actual significance in the boys’ “roads” to “self-discovery,” aka, drugged up nights of blurry sex and over-indulgence.

Whatever the case for them needing to set off on the road, Dean and Sal’s relationship evolves into somewhat of an obsession, though always remains ambiguous. But if you know anything about being on the road, it’s that the vast lands aren’t always so glorious. What started out as an innocent adventure has worn threadbare to an unfulfilling hangover of emptiness (and no money!).

So when all is said and done and the guys end up going their own ways, Kerouac sets home to write. “I first met Dean…” And the movie ends, as the story begins—while he feverishly types the story of his time on the road.

I loved this movie so much and I can’t emphasize enough how much the music really makes it come alive. And if you’re anyone who knows anything about classic American lit, then you really gotta see this.

Three stars!

(photo via Kerouac.com)

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.