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Print to Projector: On the Road

By  · Published on March 20th, 2010

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”


Sal Paradise decides to take up his friend Remi’s invitation to board a ship on the West Coast and see the world. On his way out west, he’ll be sidetracked by the allure of the road and the wonder the these great United States to crash with a whole host of strange, mad characters.


With a huge list of required reading in American schools, there is still a book that claims a bit of rebellion. A book that attempts to get banned every few years. A book that seems both dated and innovative still. “On the Road” is a frantic, close-enough-for-jazz look at truly insane people. Our faithful narrator Sal Paradise sticks his thumb out and falls in with the wrong crowd for our vicarious pleasure.

The beauty of the book is in the endless details – the cold beers, the pouring rain, the rides hitched and women shacked up with. If there ever was an American Romanticism, this is it. The open road. Pure freedom. Hot Jazz.

It feels as everyday as reading a diary, but it’s like reading the diary of the most interesting man on the planet who is living out a life you’ve only dreamed of in your safe little world where hitchhiking belongs to a simpler, equally dangerous time.

Potential Problems

The only real problems stemming from the novel are its length and its notoriety. It’s a rambling work, a puzzle of a million tiny details instead of the standard three acts of only a dozen plot turns. “On the Road” comes with as many plot turns as twists in the highway. As for its fame, any adaptation would come with the bar already set absurdly high, and it would have to deliver.

The Pitch

These are the makers of music. These are the dreamers of dreams.


Some would think that the tone of the movie needs to be calm and thoughtful, full of winding moments that represent the vast, sweeping spirit of the country. I disagree. I think it needs to be a cultural slap in the face. I have no idea whether he’d have the chops for structure, but slam poet Saul Williams can tell a story and a certainly has a way with words. His work is focused and frantic all at once – the perfect tone for this project.


He would need to take a few energy drinks to raise the levels up from Into the Wild, but Sean Penn has a great eye for the country and for the spirit of the road. Plus, directing this would continue his streak of road movies whose titles begin with prepositions and head somewhere.


Since it’s based on true events with the names changed, there’s a question of who really to portray here. Either way, these are the mad ones:

Glenn Fitzgerald as Sal Paradise: Fitzgerald has already played Jack Kerouac (Sal, our narrator) once before in the movie Neal Cassady, and he does so perfectly. He’s a great look for the author, and it would be great to see the actor gain a bit more prominence. He’s talented, but not a star, and that would definitely play the film’s favor.

Emile Hirsch as Dean Moriarty: Give Hirsch a shave, part his hair, and allow him to be a raving lunatic who loves the sound of his own voice, and you’ll have a perfect Moriarty. Based on smooth-talking road warrioring hobo Neal Cassady, Hirsch would take him from charismatic to careless.

Paz de la Huerta as Terry: Terry is a sort of free spirit herself who has run away from her husband. She’s an instant infatuation for Sal along with her migrant worker status and the farming lifestyle she represents. It’s an uncommon ability to play both innocent and slightly sinister, but de la Huerta is a fantastic, sexy actress who could definitely entice our hero.

Jake Weber as Old Bull Lee: Old Bull Lee is based off famous poet/writer William Burroughs who was a bit older and a bit wiser than the others. Weber is a far-too-underrated actor, although it does seem a little bristly to have a Briton play one of the most iconic American authors.

Jena Malone as Camille: As it’s contractually necessary for Malone to appear in all indie films and anything celebrating stuff English Lit majors would freak out over, Malone would be perfect as Camille – the character based on writer Carolyn Cassady. She and husband Moriarty experience some severe problems, but Sal breaths some fresh air into their relationship.

Ben Foster as Carlo Marx: James Franco is already playing Allen Ginsberg (who Marx is based on) for Howl, and no one takes my suggestions of David Cross seriously, so I figured I’d get a little crazy and have Foster (who looks nothing like him) go into the make-up chair for some black hair dye (so he’ll look more like him). The important thing is the intensity that Foster could bring to the character

Who Owns It:

People have been trying to make this into a film for years. The latest intel shows that Francis Ford Coppola is still interested in producing the project with Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles at the helm.


As one of the best works of modern American literature, I’m sure there are people on both sides of an adaptation argument. Why transform something this perfect onto another medium? Why not? There are deeply rich characters here who sweat and curse their way through the United States (and into Mexico), and the visuals evoked alone demand to be projected onto the big screen. Tackling the tome would be difficult, exact work, but it has the possibility to churn out a phenomenal film.

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