On the 4th of July I watched two post-apocalyptic movies: The Road and The Book Of Eli. While the former is one of the most depressing movies of the 21st century, the latter is a bit easier to watch.

In some way both movies deal with the consequences of an unknown cause that brought civilisation almost to an end.

The Road is the movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. It follows an unnamed father and son’ journey across post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a great, unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilization and almost all life on Earth. They realised that they probably won’t survive another winter at their present location, so they move south. Through the desolate landscape, empty roads and highways, towards the sea. They carry only what is on their backs and what will fit into a damaged supermarket cart. Their mission is sustained by the vague hope of finding warmth and more “good people” like them.

Oakley Inmate sunglesses in The Book of Eli (2010, Warner Bros., screen capture)

The Book Of Eli is a story about Eli, a nomad in a post-apocalyptic world, who is charged with delivering his copy of a book, the very last remaining King James Version of the Bible, to a safe location on the West Coast of the United States. While The Road is a depressive, sad and slow movie, The Book Of Eli is full of action and has even some fight scenes. Sometimes Eli looks more like a superhero-samurai-preacher character from a comic book than one of the last sane people in the world.

Nevertheless, let’s check the brands from the movies.

First of all, there is apparent lack of brands in both movies, which was expected. However, some brands were included after all.

Mosley Tribes Raynes sunglesses in The Book of Eli (2010, Warner Bros., screen capture)

In The Book Of Eli the first thing the viewer notice are sunglasses. Apparently ‘the blast’ that wiped out almost everything on Earth had additional effect, so people have to wear sunglasses when they are exposed to sun. Denzel Washington wears Oakley’s model Inmate, Mila Kunis wears Mosley Tribes’ model Raynes and Gary Oldman has Club-S model by Sama Eyewear. Other brands included in the movie: Oprah’s O magazine, GMC truck, Motorola megaphone, Beats headphones … There are more examples from both movies at my Flickr page.

Coca-Cola can in The Road (2009, Dimension Films, screen capture)

In The Road’s world there is almost no hope, almost no brands. However there is a passage in the movie when father finds a soft drink machine and gets a can of Coca Cola. The son doesn’t know what it is:

Son: What is it, Papa?

Father: It’s a treat. For you.

You can imagine how powerful and meaningful this scene is: today Coca Cola is one of the most important brands (worldwide). Even more, it is the synonym for our branded world, for consumerism, for the dominance of capital, for our way of life.

Cormac McCarthy explained why he chose Coca Cola: “Well, it just struck me. It’s the iconic American product. The one thing that everybody knows about America, the one thing above cowboys and Indians, above everything else that you can think of, is Coca-Cola. You can’t go to a village of 18 people in the remotest part of Africa that they don’t know about Coca-Cola.”

He’s right. In 1980 a bottle of Coca Cola was thrown from the plane (!) on the Kalahari Desert. There the Bushman tribe decides that the bottle is an evil thing and must be thrown off of the edge of the world. You might remember the movie – it’s The Gods Must Be Crazy. This is just an example of brand’s power.

Del Monte can in The Road (2009, Dimension Films, screen capture)

If you have a post-apocalyptic movie that would like to be taken seriously, than producers must be really careful with product placement. I believe that the rule “less is more” should be applied there. Apocalypse in usually associated with complete destruction – and that includes brands too. In The Road all brands had been included with a purpose (I like the Coca Cola reference the most), but in The Book Of Eli I had a feeling that some parts of the screenplay were written in a way that it enabled product placement (e.g. sunglasses). It left a bitter taste and that’s just the opposite what a good product placement should provide.


Some additional thoughts on the movie:

Even though Coca Cola was a part of the novel, the producers had some difficulties with integration of Coke can. Here’s the excerpt from the director John Hillcoat’s diary:

“We were wondering how to shoot the book’s memorable Coca-Cola scene because it was necessary to obtain corporate clearance. The official response was that family brands do not want any association with cannibalism! Also Coca-Cola has a policy never to allow its product to be shown in an R-rated movie. We had to shoot the scene over and over with a variety of soft drinks, including Coke, in the hope that one of them would come around. Then Viggo [Mortensen] took up the challenge and directly contacted the Coca-Cola executive in charge of the decision – and got the approval we needed.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)