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)
Girl With a Satchel