Monday, November 30, 2009

Revolutionary Road

I should have written this a long time ago. If you've never seen the movie Revolutionary Road, I recommend you see it.

I'm not sure how I derive any pleasure in watching such devastation unfold. I've watched it several times, and every time I feel like my soul is being slowly ripped in half, right down the middle. It's excruciating. It makes me sick. However, the acting is incomparable. The sense of REALITY is incomparable. It's tragedy that seems to be preventable, but you are helpless to prevent.

The story revolves around Frank and April Wheeler, a young couple living in 1950s suburban Connecticut with their two children. Frank, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, rides the train into New York City every day, with all the other men in their suits and fedoras, where he develops taglines for his company's products. He finds the work meaningless and paltry. April, played by Kate Winslet, carries out her daily duties as housewife and mother with similar disinterest.

April is more sensitive to the mounting sense of entrapment, and one night presents Frank with her plan for escaping their colorless, conformant destiny: they will move to Paris. Utilizing their savings, she envisions herself making enough money to support the family long enough for Frank to just LIVE, and figure out what he REALLY wants to do with his life.

Nearly all of the characters in the movie react very poorly to their plan, although they (the other characters) don't seem to really understand why they feel that way. Frank and April find renewed love and vigor in their relationship with this new wind of hope, but all the other characters in the move, except for John, the "insane" guy, develop a subconscious resentment toward the Wheelers, and declare it childish, and unrealistic. The whole thing soon falls apart when April becomes pregnant and Frank stumbles onto a new path for success at work.

Kate Winslet's portrayal of April Wheeler may be the greatest female acting performance I've ever seen. It's hard to imagine a more convincing, visceral display to be conducted with such personal investment. She's disturbing and awe inspiring. April Wheeler is beautiful and uncontrollable - a brilliant light, and a black, bleak pit. She loves her family, but is utterly shattered when Frank backs out of their plan to escape to Paris.

Frank is ultimately revealed to be a coward. DiCaprio's performance is equally gripping: raw, sincere, and intense to the point of offending me personally. I really don't understand how this movie did not receive more awards.

As I write this, my opinion on who is right in this movie changes. I see faults in both April and Frank, but I'm challenged to think that any fault I find in April, like that she should not have reacted so strongly, that she pinned too much on the move, is really a fault in myself, as if I am as cowardly as Frank for even thinking those things. April has never been anywhere, but Frank has been because he went overseas for The War. It's unfair to not consider the level of excitement and hope this would generate for April, who is by all accounts a worldly woman who has never seen the world - I mean her potential is obvious and the suffocation she is experiencing is obvious.

The abortion is a very difficult issue, and I ultimately can't agree with her wanting to go through with it. What makes it complicated is the fact that Frank refuses to entertain the idea of having the baby in Paris, so the pregnancy becomes a roadblock to leaving. I really don't understand why, since ultimately it would just be a wrinkle in their plans, but not a show stopper. It could just be a point where Frank feels so out of character in the relationship that he feels he must assert himself as the head of the household. Frank's attempt to exert control over April results in tragedy every time he tries to do it.

Frank lost April when he backed out of the move to Paris. April had invested so much in the move that Frank's reversal broke her hope for the future. She began to resent Frank. She began to resent him with bitter ferocity. They finally tear each other down in a climactic fight that leaves both of them lost.

The next morning April has calmed down, and Frank comes downstairs to find her in a good mood, no longer hating him, and she makes them both a nice breakfast. By all accounts Frank should stay home that day and work this out... Right??? But April doesn't like talking, so I don't know how that would've worked. Anyway it doesn't happen because this is the big day Frank is supposed to get his promotion.

John, the "insane" guy, played by Michael Shannon, is possibly the most sane person in the movie. He is the only person who is interested in their plan to move to Paris, and his vocal disgust at their change of plans ignites the climactic fight between Frank and April. You have to wonder if his so-called "insanity" is affected by the ridiculous expectations and shallowness of the culture. He actually shows no sign of mental illness that I can discern except for his erratic outbursts, but - although rude - they are actually sharp, objective observations.

I can't write anymore about this in blog format. Go watch the movie. Hopefully you'll be as affected by it as I am.


whoaitstheresa said...

I couldn't agree more with what you've written. Well said!

skmckinn said...

Yeah, you should read the book. It makes you even sicker--and you end up NOT liking EITHER April or Frank. In fact, you should read everything you can find by Richard Yates. He's like...John Updike on cocaine.

But you forget one thing in your consideration--April has already cast Frank and the family as her reason for a failed acting career. So she does something, at the outset, as cowardly as Frank does at the end.

I think the book is about the way we externalize blame when we fail ourselves. We construct obstacles...


Digitizdat said...

Huh. I didn't realize that April blamed the family for her failed acting career. It makes perfect sense, but for some reason I didn't see it. I am so glad you said that the book is great, because I was really hoping you would say that. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Jennifer Lynn said...

Oh, this is a great movie and beautifully acted, but I could never watch it more than once! It made me hurt!