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Feb 16, 2009 00:26 # 46231

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Revolutionary Road on Valentine's Day = Bad choice (SPOILERS)

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My girlfriend and I went to see this movie yesterday. In somewhat blind assumptions, we thought it would be a feel good story, wherein the stars of Titanic flex their romance muscles once again. Though neither of us particularly love romance movies, it seemed like a nice choice for Valentine's day.

Note to self: read up a little more thoroughly before assuming. This is, I think, one of the least romantic movies I've even seen. It was jarring and disturbing; it offers no happy ending, and no redemption for mistakes. It is very much a treatise on the dangers of romantic hope. The sole likable character is the mentally unstable John Givings, whose saving grace is brutal honesty and a cynical fairness. In a movie with a fair share of The Office-like social awkwardness and repression, he cuts through pointedly and refreshingly. Other than him, the characters are flawed and discomforting, and though tragic, it's even hard to sympathize with them.

I might have been better prepared had I known this was the work of American Beauty director Sam Mendes. American Beauty was similarly critical of suburban life, particularly with the use of sexuality as a key focus point. But in American Beauty, we are forewarned of the tragic ending, and there is a sense of redemption achieved by the doomed Lester. In this movie, no one is spared, and no one escapes.

Kate Winslet's April demonstrates that the flaw of suburban life is really in a flawed outlook had by those living it. April believed that Frank was going to be her companion in a grand life. As she says, she once believed him capable of anything. This reflected her own delusion that she was capable of anything. However, if you think you're capable of anything, everything you do will be short of what you think you're capable of. This is what breeds disappointment in suburbia.

Thus, it isn't so much that the suburban life is flawed, but rather that it doesn't fulfill the dream of greatness held by some of the people living there. As John Givings notes, people see the emptiness, but not the hopelessness. Even Frank doesn't get it. He feels that his life is empty, but continues to insist that they can be happy, even that she still loves him when she declares she doesn't.

April had realized the hopelessness, which is why she insisted on escape. But it was for more than herself - it was so she could be happy with her husband. This, essentially, is the main incongruity which drives the whole conflict of the movie. He presumed that she was in love with him for who he was. Given that assumption, he believed that she could and would continue to be happy with him even if he didn't change. In reality, she was in love with his potential - his potential to become whatever he wanted, and for both of them to become "something wonderful in the world." Such an abstract and undefinable dream is doomed to be unrealized, and yet it was shared to a different extent by many different characters.

This dream is, in both this and American Beauty, a plague in suburbia. Thematically, this is also explored in Fight Club: the suburbanite is consumed by dreams of a different life, fueled by the soaring optimism about his or her own glorious potential. Suburbia can never fulfill such promise. In Fight Club, the solution is the abandonment of suburbia, and the use of destruction to affirm life. In American Beauty, there is an escape through the rediscovery of youthful energy.

In Revolutionary Road, the way out is a much smaller and more personal idea: to pack up the kids and move to Paris, based on a statement Frank made years earlier about the people there being more alive. This idea returns to Frank and Alice a sense of vigour and hope, which rides along making everyone else sorry for themselves until BAM: she gets pregnant again, and that ruins everything. In terms of romance busters, this is the buzzkill A-bomb.

If you think such a turn of events is really harsh and takes a dim view of parenthood, you're not wrong. This movie is a real downer in that sense. The sexual energy and brimming hopefulness of youth go hand in hand, and are used up and deflated by the resulting children. April comes to associate her children with her broken dreams - by the end of the movie, she can't even bring herself to say she loves them.

This is a sea of negativity. And yet, what is still missing is why anyone takes up the suburban life in the first place. It's not like it promises anything terrible exciting. Suburbia appears as a trap for dreamers, to lure them into a dull and empty life. But why is it a trap? Is the flaw in the suburb, or in the dreamer? Why did these individuals end up stuck there?

This movie offers two possible answers. One is that the dreamer, challenged by such things as having children and needing money, is too weak and compromises by taking on a certain pragmatic conformity. The suburb then is the easy way out, which appears hopeful but is essentially empty.

The other possible answer given is that the dream is flawed. April insists upon becoming something great. She wants the promise and excitement of sex without the morning after. Her desires are wonderful and mythical, and thus she seeks to escape reality rather than embrace it. This is like wanting to paint a beautiful painting without knowing what it will look like: her answer to every failed brushstroke is to throw away the canvas.

I toss this movie around back and forth in my head, as it's hard to stop thinking about. This movie is uniquely sad, in that it doesn't offer a positive view of anything really. Men, women, parenthood, sex, marriage, and even love are all shown as flawed. It makes me wonder if people living the suburban life can identify with it, and why it would or should be so that they are not living the life they want, or wanting the life they live.

"History is more or less bunk." - Henry Ford


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