Though the rating alone may be reason enough for some Christians to skip the film, some are giving it a chance and even calling it a more powerful tool than Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" because of its wider appeal.
"We need to look at it as a cultural key to build bridges and start spiritual conversations ... about the truth," Phil Hotsenpiller, teaching pastor at Friends Church in Yorba Linda, Calif., told The Christian Post. "People will see it. You'll miss the opportunity to have a spiritual conversation ... and give a biblical interpretation."
The movie, which opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25, follows a father and his young son in a post-apocalyptic world. As they move south toward the coast to escape the cold, endless winter, they eat what little scraps they find, find shelter in abandoned cars and the woods, and encounter cannibals as well as other refugees. The journey is a struggle to survive in a world that is dying.
"It's more than your average zombie flick," screenwriter Joe Penhall said at a recent media roundtable in Los Angeles.
One of the major themes drawn out in the film is humanity/inhumanity, Penhall noted.
"What's in every single scene of that film is coping with the disappearance [of] humanity," he said. Religiousness, spirituality, music, and love all constitute humanity and the film depicts the horror of its gradual disappearance.
"How do we continue to generate humanity when humanity as a concept is fading into history?" Penhall posed.
While struggling to survive and protect his son, the father (played by Viggo Mortensen) finds himself losing his own humanity. But director John Hillcoat believes the boy saves his father because he gives humanity back to the man through his innate goodness.
At the heart of the film is the love story between the father and son. Even in the midst of their overwhelming struggles in a world where nothing is left, it's their love that keeps them going. But with that love, the father has a constant fear of being unable to protect his son and even worse leaving his son in a world where he can't protect himself.
Though such familial love is admirable, Dr. Reg Grant, professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, hopes Christians will use that story to "redirect those who fear that the best we have to hope for is the strength of human love."
"'The Road' provides Christian an opportunity to offer a better way to those seeking real hope," he said.
"The Road" is not a religious film, let alone a Christian one. But the deep questions raised and the spiritual themes embedded present "a unique entry point for those in the faith community to share the hope of the Gospel in a hopeless world," said A. Larry Ross, president of A. Larry Ross Communications, the Christian media company that was asked to take the film to the faith-based community.
While Christians typically work with films that either "edify" believers or can be used for general outreach, "The Road" presents a different opportunity, said Ross.
Given that the movie is expected to be a significant media and cultural event and a huge success (there's already some Oscar buzz), Ross believes Christians should take advantage of that opportunity.
"The impact [of this film] will not be in the theater but over coffee when discussions happen," he said.
He also noted that although "The Road" is not didactic in style nor forthright with the Gospel message, like many Christian films are, the director and others who worked on the film have said it would not be presumptuous for faith audiences to view the film through a biblical filter.
Hotsenpiller of Yorba Linda believes that all things, including this film, can be used as vehicles for Gospel distribution and reception. He has developed a discussion guide and sermon series for the movie around such topics as life and death, good and evil, love, and the environment, and has been traveling to cities throughout the country hosting screenings for pastors and other faith-based leaders.
But other pastors have not been as quick to take up the film as an outreach tool. Christof Weber, pastor of Rockland Community Church, in Front Royal, Va., sees the film as powerful and moving, but does not plan to show it at his church.
Instead, he believes the movie is "fertile ground for having deep, soul-searching conversations."
"Films are the lingua franca of younger generations," Weber said. "If you want to dialogue with people under 40 about spiritual issues, it is almost impossible to do so without discussing the movies they watch."
"That said, I don't like the idea of trying to use any film as an 'outreach tool,'" he continued. "I'm not interested in trying to find just the right bait to get people interested in the Gospel. What not-yet-believers need are far more Christians who are willing to really listen and who are interested in genuine relationships and conversations that don't hinge on whether they 'make a decision for Christ.' I don't feel a need to be a 'closer' when it comes to evangelism, but I do want to be able to engage people in meaningful conversation. And to do that requires that I watch movies, like 'The Road,' that explore truth and meaning from new, and even disturbing, angles."
Brian Wilbur, pastor at BridgeWay 242 in Arlington, Va., is more open to using the film as an outreach tool. He said it presents an opportunity to bring Christian answers to all the questions the movie raises.
So while "The Road" may not be a film like "Passion of the Christ" or "Fireproof" that churches would buy out theaters for, a number of Christian leaders and those involved in the movie believe "The Road" will force people to look at what really matters in life, make them think twice before wasting another bottle of water, and challenge them to search for hope not in the world but in God.
The hope presented in the film "is horizontal, and there's a limit to that," acknowledged Ross.
"[But] we can talk about the vertical hope," he added.