Pop: Road to despair

What the world needs now is love, sweet love, but don't expect to find it in Revolutionary Road. Kate and Leo may look as cosy as Barack and Michelle on the publicity poster but the marriage they bring to life (or death) on screen, care of director Sam Mendes, is anything but blissful.

In fact, the film paints a picture of marriage so bleak you may find yourself wondering if signing up for monogamy is more like selling your soul to the devil than the consummation of two complementary souls in spirit. If anything is to be gained here, it's the message that two people intent on gratifying their own desires do not a happy marriage make – unless those desires are in alignment and mutually beneficial (as one would assume is the case with Barack and Michelle).

Leaving their youthful dreams behind, when aspiring actress April falls pregnant, she and an idealistic Frank move from Manhattan to the suburbs, settling for the brand of 1950s suburban mediocrity they openly detest. She is frustrated by an unrealised dream, while he fears turning into his father, another corporate victim working in a job he loathes towards the 'American dream'. Their individual discontent pervades their marriage. Both dabble in affairs but, of course, while offering a fleeting escape from their Dystopian reality, their dalliances fail to satiate their longings for a better life.

We get a glimpse of what this 'better life' might look like when April convinces Frank that they, and their two children, who are largely absent from the film (again reflecting their self absorption), should move to Paris to start afresh. As they go about making plans and packing their things, they find passion again, and the remnants of their youthful idealism come to life.

But the glimmer of hope is soon dulled by the persuasions of the world – Frank is offered a promotion – and an unplanned pregnancy, which sees April succumb to a deep depression. We receive some dark comedic relief via the paranoid schizophrenic son of their real estate agent (played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon), who is unforgiving with his honest dinner-table appraisal of their marriage.

Accustomed as we are to our happy Hollywood endings, I wasn't surprised by the collective sigh of audience relief when the credits started to roll, nor the comment by a fellow movie-goer: "Thank God that's over." Indeed, there is no God to be found in Revolutionary Road – there is no hope, no forgiveness, no joy and no selfless love. We see the human condition laid bare and operating at its worst – selfishness, rebellion, depravity, arrogance, deceit, faithlessness and hypocrisy all come into play.

You might be left wondering, 'What is the point?'. I'm not sure what Sam Mendes was trying to achieve (unless Prozac was a sponsor?) and can only hope the film is not a reflection of his marriage to Winslet. Where American Beauty, which paints an equally abysmal picture of suburban life, was palatable for its humour and likeable characters, Revolutionary Road is the cinematic equivalent of jury duty.

Coming from a 'broken home' and being in a marriage that's suffered its share of trials, I'm no idealist and I'm sure many couples will identify with April and Frank and their struggle. But do we need to see it on screen? I loved the raw honesty of Lantana, for example, particularly Kerry Armstrong's character, but we were not left bereft. We wanted happy outcomes for the characters – we felt compassion for them; not disdain.

Thankfully, I had my copy of Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity, with its glimpses into her warm home life, to turn to as a reminder that not all is hopeless – we can choose to create our own happy havens; to eschew worldly expectations of success and financial security in favour of investing into our relationships and living out our passions, which are ultimately more sustaining for the soul, if a little idealistic (oh, reality, how you do spoil a good party).

But wouldn't it be nice to see the Brockets and Obamas of the world reflected on screen – now, they could teach us a valuable lesson or two.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit...look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

8 comments:

Anastasia said...

If I draw on my family background, where marriages were molded on the idea of romance, even though they were a legitimate way to have sex depending on whether they were pre-arranged or not, as were many of the marriages of my uncles and aunts, as well as my parent's, Mendes is reflecting the reality of marriage. Romance it's not. It may be, in the initial throes (I fear I'm sounding bleak here), but it settles when the real responsibilities begin: children, house, etc. And I think many people don't want to watch what is, in fact, the truth. Marriage is a restrictive social process. If couples don't have a fantastic safety net in the form of parents who'll pick up the slack (babysit or provide a few extra dollars to lend a hand), then a couple has it tough, and it would be a miracle if that marriage survived two decades during these times. Twenty years ago, maybe. Thirty, definitely, because the moral compass pointed toward responsibility and duty. In this era, it's the opposite. People have little faith in themselves, never mind their religious faiths. I come from a Christian background; within my culture, there are many double standards, just like in any culture. The idea of finding God is an ideal, and often the cause of great disappointment.

Lucie said...

I thought it was quite boring really. the question from the start wasn't whether it was going to end badly but how badly really...

Ondo Lady said...

It is funny because when I first saw the posters for this film I dismissed it as some arty Kate Winslet clap trap. Then a few reviews later I realised there was a lot more to the film and it was really about the breakdown of a surburban marriage and the complexities that go with it. I was on my way to go and see it and then I thought I would look it up in Wikipedia and got a surprise. The ending is given away there as well as the depressing nature of the film. Call me shallow but right now I am in no mood to go and see a depressing film and make my way home. So I decided to give this a miss and I will say that your review makes me feel relieved that I did.

I loved Leo and Kate in Titanic so it would be weird to see them here as this turbulent couple. Mendes's take on the marriage and living in the suburbs seems so traumatic and I certainly do hope the film is not a reflection on his marriage with Kate. Actually it might be his take on how Rose and Jack might have ended up if Jack had lived LOL. I do believe that being trapped is more to do with your state of mind than your surroundings and maybe Frank and April were just married to the wrong people. Also I grew up in a big city and now live in the suburbs and do not feel trapped at all - in fact I l feel more free. There, I think I have rambled on enough now.

Anastasia said...

To clariy on the idea of God, it varies from one person to the next, but to expect a higher power in the form of a personality overseeing everything personally, can only open the door to a lot of questioning, anguish and dissatisfaction.
My definition has altered over time; for me, finding God may not be a question of finding 'God' but the opposite; having the crappiest day or experiencing an event that tests one's reservoirs for patience and understanding, to unexpectedly have a bright moment that inspires continuation; the best example I can give is when a relative of mine died suddenly, the tragic aspect (their young age; they weren't pushing 90) and everyone wallowing in misery for the first day of the wake (Greeks have at least one week of 'wake' time before the funeral blessing), and for one day to be lighter, we didn't have the misery brigade visit as yet, and the women's conversation turning toward marriage and life in general (with husbands) my aunt coming out with her view of sex, cracking us all up in the process. Now to me, that minor break in the bleak funeral process (which is tremendously long in some Mediterranean cultures), is a god moment. It has nothing to do with the idea of an omnipotent 'masculine' (of course, even though it doesn't have to be) deity presiding over everything.

rachel said...

I actually thought this film was really interesting - the friend I saw it with and I talked about it for an hour afterward. It was a bit (very!) bleak on the marriage front, but I think the point was that leading the life you want to requires constant effort - and if you don't work on it, it's easy to be led astray by social pressures.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...you're entry reminds me of a quote by T.S. Eliot: "Mankind never could bear very much reality."
Why does every movie have to be positive and redemptive? Life sure as hell isn't!!

Anonymous said...

thank you, what a beautiful piece.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie and yes it was depressing but like Slumdog I think it had something important to portray, that not all of life is Gossip Girl loving Upper East Side........from what I have read, it is very true to the novel it is based on and set in the 50s so some might find it hard to grasp, but definately thought provoking~