After finishing the 2019 film Roads, I was shocked to discover how underrated and unknown this movie was. There is little information about the film’s details, and there are even fewer reviews about it. Although there is little known about Roads, the movie was mightily impressive, having me connect with its main characters and keeping me intrigued in the plot for its 100-minute runtime.
The actors perfectly portray their emotions and thoughts during the many situations they encounter and the many difficult decisions they are forced to make. Overall, the film was very enjoyable and heartfelt, displaying its unique take on the typical coming-of-age themes.
Roads made its first appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25, 2019, and was released on May 30, 2019, in Germany. The movie was directed by Sebastian Schipper, who is most famously known for directing the 2015 film Veronica, and starred Fionn Whitehead and Stéphane Bak. Roads received an IMDb of 6.3/10 and a 67% Rotten Tomatoes score. The movie, however, did not receive any awards despite its brilliant actors but is available to watch on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
Roads follows a rebellious, 18-year-old man named Gyllen (Whitehead) and a shy, cautionary, illegal Congolese refugee named William (Bak). The duo first meets near Casablanca, a town in Morrocco, with similar goals of traveling through Spain to France.
Gyllen stole his step-dads RV and ditched his parents during their Moroccan holiday in hopes of reaching France to find his biological father. William intends to walk to France in hopes of finding his lost brother until he spots Gyllen on the side of the road calling for help to fix his RV.
William decides to help Gyllen fix his RV, sparking their immediate friendship. However, when Gyllen asks William if he would like to join him on the trip to France, William politely denies the offer, opting to walk there instead of with a boy he just met.
A day later, the boys’ paths cross again when William spots Gyllen being harassed by Morrocan villagers for money. William decides to help Gyllen once again, pushing the harassers away from Gyllen and demanding him to drive off. After this event, the boys travel together, slowly forming their unbreakable friendship.
A couple of hours later, William spots a German tourist who he thinks will be able to drive them past the border between Morroco and Spain. Before asking the tourist, Gyllen tells William to hide in the bathroom of the RV, as no one can know that he is with an illegal refugee. The tourist agrees to help Gyllen on the condition that Gyllen hides his hashish, an Arabian drug, in their toilet.
The group can cross the Morrocan border into Spain, but when Gyllen exits the van to ask someone for directions on where to go, the tourist drives off. However, the tourist was unaware that William was still hiding in the RV. Luckily, William can call Gyllen to tell Gyllen where his location is. Riding an electric bike, Gyllen is quickly able to find where William and the RV are. He spots the RV parked in a small field along with other vans and sneaks into the vehicle. Gyllen then taunts the tourist while driving off into the distance.
The duo then encounters a group of friends partying on the beach and invites them into the RV to smoke the hashish the tourist left behind. After waking up from a night of partying, Gyllen and William find their RV stuck in the sand of the beach.
They, fortunately, can find a group of pedestrians who are willing to help push their RV out of the sand. William can find two of the pedestrians to help drive them to where Gyllen’s dad is on the condition that they smuggle a small group of illegal Congolese refugees into France.
A couple of hours later, the group arrive in France and drop off the illegal refugees. Gyllen and William decide to park at a gas station where Gyllen calls his biological father to pick him up.
Gyllen’s dad arrives in a few minutes, enraged that Gyllen stole his step-dads RV but glad to finally see his son again. Gyllen’s dad drives the boys to their home and invites them inside to shower and stay the night before they leave for a trip.
After tidying up, Gyllen’s dad, his wife, and the boys sit down at the dinner table to discuss their current situations. The topic of enlisting back in school is brought up, making William feel uncomfortable as he politely excuses himself to go to the restroom.
Gyllen feels embarrassed about the situation, confronting his dad and stating that he is leaving. This comment angers Gyllen’s dad as he demands his son to sit back down. Gyllen refuses the order, further angering his father. The scene then shows William sneaking out of the house, hearing Gyllen’s dad beating Gyllen and shouting at him with rage,
The next morning, Gyllen finds his parents gone and decides to steal his dad’s credit card and motorcycle. He calls William and picks him up with the new ride, driving to Walmart to buy outdoor camping supplies, as the boys are now homeless.
After a few days of traveling, the boys encounter a party of homeless African Americans waiting in line for food and supplies from a group of helping hands. Among the group, William spots his long-lost brother. William immediately confronts his brother about why he never called their family and where he has been. However, his anger is soon diminished as he embraces his brother in a tight hug.
The next morning, William makes the heartbreaking decision of parting ways from Gyllen as they have finally achieved their goal of arriving in France. Gyllen understands William’s point of view and embraces him in a tight hug. The scene is extremely powerful and touching as Gyllen tells William that they must hug for at least 20 seconds “for the endorphins to kick in.”
The movie ends with the boys calling each other, sharing where they are in life and what they are now doing. Gyllen is seen working for a chef, and William is seen with his brother at a refugee camp. The boys have finally come to the end of their journey, having to start new lives without each other in France.
Coming-of-Age and Family Theme
While Roads follows the typical themes of any road movie about self-discovery, self-change, and self-growth, it is a film that uniquely displays how the main characters bond and grow together. Whitehead and Bak were promising performers who helped carry out the movie’s themes and ideals along the roads.
The duo encounters multiple different situations where they are forced to make adult-like situations that will impact others and their lives severely. They take multiple risks when crossing borders and embark on a life-changing journey filled with life-changing experiences and memories.
When the movie ends with Gyllen working for a chef, the audience is left knowing that Gyllen has grown up from his rebellious, teenage self into a more mature, responsible adult who is willing to work and turn his life around. William is also able to accomplish his goals and is seen to have experienced a significant change through the journey he decided to pursue and the decisions he has decided to make along the way.
The thematic idea that is apparent throughout the film is the necessity of family. The boys are only able to endure their journey through each other’s company. They are the very people that help them grow, and only through their connection are the boys able to experience self-discovery and growth.
There are multiple scenes where the boys are vulnerable and left feeling defeated and lost. However, time and time again, either Gyllen or William is there to comfort the latter and provide moral support and company. They constantly support and lift each other, sparking an unbreakable bond that the audience can only be impressed and amazed by.
Overall, Roads was a unique take on a typical coming-of-age road film, perfectly displaying its thematic elements of family, self-discovery, and growth through its brilliant actors. In my opinion, the movie deserves to receive more worldwide acclaim but is nonetheless worth the time to watch.