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Here it is, the start of suburban sprawl. So many people will look at it as success—the ability to survive and raise a family away from crime, in a neighborhood that thrives on wholesome love and friendship. But as anyone can tell you today, most of that is a complete façade, a mask hiding the troubles and anger and regret that everyone feels—that need for more, and a way out of the rut of living without living. What Revolutionary Road does is peel back that layer where it concerns the Wheelers, a young couple that is looked up to by everyone in their social circle. Loving, two children, a supporting husband, and a beautiful wife—they’re the idyllic white picket fence dream. Except for the inner struggles both Frank and April fight each day, looking at their present and only seeing a future full of mediocrity and safety; the excitement of young love full of hope, where the sky was the limit, all but gone. Once that first child is born, you need to begin living for someone else, putting yourself in the backseat. Sometimes that life just isn’t for all of us.

The novel for which this film is adapted from is also the material loosely utilized for the television show “Mad Men”. While these two entities differ greatly, the underlying structural problems about marriage and the meaning of success couldn’t be more similar. Sure Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is a confident man that buried his past to become the man he thought he wanted to be and Leonardo DiCaprio is a beaten man stuck in a job he hates in order to be the husband he thinks he needs to be, but the end result—breaking from their vows to add a little excitement and memory of life when all they had to worry about was themselves—is a mirror image of the other. Tightly wound and stressful to no end, Frank and April Wheeler are at a very dangerous crossroads. Finally getting on the other’s nerves, beginning to think that maybe their marriage was rushed into after a chance encounter at a party, the relationship has escalated to shouting matches that attempt to get the other to snap first. It is only the hastily hatched plan of moving to Paris, starting anew with that fervor they both fell in love with from the other the first time, that gets them back on track with a glimmer of hope for the future.

Business is booming, the computer generation is burgeoning, and money has become the driving force for life. With advertising and sales entrenching themselves into daily routine, people are finding themselves brainwashed to the idea that a perfect home life means having the big house, nice car, multiple children, and dinner on the table each night. If that dream means working a job you don’t respect or pretending your life locked inside your house raising the kids who forced you to move to the suburbs in the first place, well, you make do. As my favorite character, and probably the most important voice in the entire film, says, “most people know the emptiness, it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.” Michael Shannon’s John Givings, a friend’s son, recently admitted to an insane asylum, hits the nail on the head. Most couples going through the motions know the void they are filling with material goods and lies to themselves and each other, but very few understand the fact that once you find yourself in that world, it becomes a descent into quicksand, almost impossible to find that joy you once saw in front of you so long ago.

This man’s insanity also plays a huge role in the film due to the fact that, in my opinion, he is the sanest character here. He understands what it means to be free from the constraints of society, but for some reason humanity got lost on its journey, eventually deeming freedom to be an unattainable dream. To live without inhibitions is insanity while slaving away every last fiber of your being becomes the sane thing to do. This fact is shown completely naked through the eyes of DiCaprio’s Frank and Kate Winslet’s powerful turn as April. By discovering how much what she does hurts her, how much what her contemporaries say she should be doing destroys her will to go on, she slowly finds herself spiraling into depression, becoming vacant and hysterical. The final act, John Givings’ last visit to the Wheeler house until the next morning’s surreally off-kilter mood and action, is absolutely devastating to experience. You can’t help but see yourself in their shoes, watching as the weight of conformity finally becomes too much to prop above the necessity to fly.

And Sam Mendes really gets every bit right, even those heavily debated subjects some people might not want to face. At first, I began to think how much could have been improved if say Todd Field directed this story, but after further thought realized it wouldn’t have been as effective. While it doesn’t contain the amount of humor the audience I saw it with thought, there are a lot of laughs included, both adding to the awkwardness of some situations and deflecting from the sheer dramatic gravitas portrayed at many moments. I especially loved the moments where Mendes slowed the camera down, just a bit, and superimposed a beautiful orchestral score above while muting the sounds of the actions on screen. Utilized when April and Shep dance at a bar and later during Frank’s heart-wrenching experience of being completely helpless, this effect is successful and never heavy-handed. Sometimes it takes tragedy to wake yourself from the nightmare of solitude that you thought was a dream of happiness, and Revolutionary Road puts that revelation in your face, hopefully to watch now so as not to allow it to occur to yourself in real life.

Revolutionary Road 10/10

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photography:
[1] Leonardo DiCaprio as “Frank Wheeler” and Kate Winslet as “April Wheeler” star in Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road”, a DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage release. Copyright: © 2008 DREAMWORKS LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Francois Duhamel
[2] Michael Shannon as “John Givings” stars in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Photo by Francois Duhamel

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