January 28, 2009

Revolutionary Road or what happens when you hit a dead end....



The title of this film, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Yates, can be somewhat misleading to those of us who have never read nor heard of the book. For no revolution takes place. And to quote Richard Yates directly: " I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fifties. " The book itself was chosen in 2005 by Time as of the best 100 english-language works written from 1923 to the present day. Note to myself: read it.

A prologue from another book fits perfectly to set the stage - as it were - of this film:

"An anonymous text from the tradition says that, in life, each person can take one of two attitudes: to build or to plant. The builders might take years over their tasks, but one day, they finish what they're doing. Then they find they´re hemmed in by their own walls. Life loses its meaning when the building stops."

And that is what this film is about - what happens when life loses its meaning and the struggle to find it again - as individuals. Or together.

The film is set in the 50's. The era itself underlines and reinforces the rigidity of society in the greater context of the term. The "Ozzy and Harriet"ness providing more than a backdrop, or a challenge for the production designer. The decade as a dramatic unit, contributing equally - as much as each individual human character - to the "hopeless emptiness". Allowing, indeed, forcing the people, the players to move within that time, giving it a stark clarity probably no other era could have provided with such sanitized ordinary. At least not in recent history. Dissent was not tolerated. The phenomenon of the McCarthy witchhunts and the political conservative zealotry of Eisenhower creepily reflected in "wave-the-flag-we-saved-the-world" whitebread Americana. The white picket fence as a feeble symbolic brick wall to keep all the bad guys out ie a sort of pre-emptive "you are with us or against us" demographic. Resurfacing again, albeit in a slightly different form, during the Bush years.

East coast suburbia as a voluntary prison sentence. The pervasive willingness to abandon any variant thoughts, internally nor externally. An insidious willful blindness, a numbing of all senses. The automated "polite small talk", much like a shiny new appliance, over a cup of coffee whilst sitting in the squeaky clean kitchen, perfectly coiffed, crease-free starched, with frills, neatly tied into a bow. Try untying the bow - you´ll find its actually a knot as April Wheeler's futile attempts revealed. (surely no coincidence that Ira Levin of "Stepford Wives" authorship also set his 1972 novel in Connecticut)

Anyone passing through the gate throws away the key. The tragic heros, April and Frank Wheeler meet and marry under the premise of defiance. They would guard each other against the suffocating confinement of a gated community mentality. Frank and April truly believed they could hold onto their own personal "special. They kept it under wraps whilst attempting to conform to "We met, fell in love, got married, got pregnant, bought a nice house in a nice neighborhood, I hate my job, I hate my life but I´ll never mention that part" discourse. Not realizing, man is a creature of habit. Do something long enough, participate as if you belong, you get used it and are reluctant to abandon that safety of regularity.

Yet, when their comatose state gradually recedes, it invokes nothing short of drastic and ultimately tragic events. The key, their respective specialness, was hidden in such a deep dark hole, they weren´t able to find it - at least not in a joint effort. At one point, a kind of oracle is introduced. A crazy guy. He is "troubled" as his over-protective mother tip toes around the fact that most would label him insane. Simply because he is a non-conformist. He will not play the game - lets stick him in psychiatric care. He´s beyond the "normal" marrying age, he won´t take a "normal" job, and most reprehensible, he speaks his mind. The odd thing is, John Given is the only sane person around.

"Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness. " This guy is the only one willing to look into the abyss. The abyss of April and Franks´s despair. And his own. I suppose what makes him a bit of strange, is that he revels in it - this digging for worms.

A curtain is lifted, and we watch the play unfold in uncomfortable fascination, much like the audience watching April and her fellow amateur cast members make a miserable show of acting. A stage is set, the actors come in and play their allotted roles. Cleverly done - this metaphor at the beginning of the film. April, the aspiring actress, as she introduces herself to Frank in the first scene. "I'm an actress". Well, turns out she is a bad actress on the wooden boards and on the stage of suburbia. The key phrase, as it turns out. She is a bad actress.* She cannot deliver the lines nor play the role that is expected of her.

Even April´s attempt to escape - finally - on her own - is shrouded in a cloud of propriety. A negation to any outward ruffling of feathers, always expected to remain smooth, any "problems" pearl off the perfect manicured lawns and shrubs. It’s what is not spoken out loud that reverberates the loudest in this film. And if someone continues to chatter you to death with superficial crap, you just turn your hearing aid off. Watch the film and you´ll know what I mean.

I attribute the fact that this film was so blatantly overlooked at the Academy of Motion pictures,Arts and Sciences simply because it made too many of the old geezers very very uncomfortable. In my humble opinion, it deserved a best picture, best director nomination for Sam Mendes (yeah, American Beauty, that guy) and best adapted screenplay. Oh, and the music. Was used very sparingly throughout, but it was a recurring theme that just underlined the impending doom.

On my list, even though its early in the year, it will be amongst the best. A life-changing experience.......corny but true. And it sure made me cry.......a lot. And I really really hate sad movies. But well, I´m glad I stepped outside my safety zone to go see it. I recommend doing that more often. And be a gardener. Grow things.

* I am talking about the character she portrays of course. Kate Wins-a-lot is good, I like her. But a one to two year cycle of "I´m an awesome actress, get me that oscar" would also prove the point and would be greatly appreciated......at least by me.

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